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10-Day North Island Itinerary – 3 Tried and Tested Itineraries!

10-Day North Island Itinerary – 3 Tried and Tested Itineraries!

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Looking for an epic way to explore New Zealand’s North Island? After living in Auckland, I’ve road-tripped all over this island and found loads of amazing things to do. 

With so many areas to discover, you’re might a bit overwhelmed with choices. I’ve totally been there!

Luckily, I’m a master at crafting itineraries and have lots of local knowledge. To help with your planning, I’ve put together three different routes that hit the highlights of the North Island. These itineraries cover 10 days, which I think is the perfect amount of time to explore!

I’ve included a little bit of everything, from iconic destinations like Hobbiton and Rotorua to those off-the-beaten-path places that you’ll have to read to find out! So check out these 3 itinerary options to see which one suits your travel style best.

Table Of Contents
  1. Overview of My Top 3 Itineraries
  2. Itinerary #1 – Auckland to Wellington
  3. Itinerary #2 – North Island Loop with Northland
  4. Itinerary #3 – Auckland to Wellington Volcanic Road Trip
  5. Thanks for reading!
  6. Why I Book Tours on Viator
  7. Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Overview of My Top 3 Itineraries

1. Itinerary 1 Overview (Auckland to Wellington)

Auckland to Coromandel to Rotorua to Taupo to Wellington New Zealand road trip map
  • 10 Days 
  • Can start in either Auckland or Wellington 
  • Starts and finishes at a major airport 
  • Great for those heading to the South Island
  • Highlights are Auckland, Coromandel, Waiheke Island, Wairere Falls, Hobbiton, Rotorua, Taupo, and Wellington

Day 1 – Auckland 

Day 2 – Day Trip to Waiheke Island 

Day 3 – Drive to Coromandel (stay in Hot Water Beach or Hahei) 

Day 4 – Coromandel 

Day 5 – Drive to Rotorua via Wairere Falls and Hobbiton

Day 6 – Rotorua 

Day 7 – Drive to Taupo 

Day 8 – Taupo 

Day 9 – Drive to Wellington 

Day 10 – Wellington

2. Itinerary 2 Overview (Auckland to Auckland Loop)

Auckland to Paihia to Whangarei to Raglan to Rotorua to Taupo to Auckland New Zealand road trip map
  • 10 Days 
  • Starts and finishes in Auckland 
  • Starts and finishes at a major airport 
  • Perfect for those who are coming to New Zealand for beaches, warm weather, and surfing. Oh, and staying off the beaten path!
  • Highlights are Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Whangarei, Raglan, Waitomo Glow Worms, Hobbiton, Rotorua, and the Tongariro Alpin Crossing.

Day 1 – Auckland 

Day 2 – Drive to Paihia 

Day 3 – Paihia 

Day 4 – Drive to Whangarei 

Day 5 – Drive from Whangarei to Raglan

Day 6 – Raglan 

Day 7 – Raglan to Rotorua via Hobbiton 

Day 8 – Rotorua 

Day 9 – Tongariro National Alpine Crossing (stay in Taupo) 

Day 10 – Drive to Auckland

3. Itinerary 3 Overview (Auckland to Wellington Volcanic Road Trip)

Auckland to Raglan to Rotorua to Taupo to New Plymouth to Wellington road trip New Zealand
  • 10 Days 
  • Can start in either Auckland or Wellington 
  • Starts and finishes at a major airport 
  • Great for those heading to the South Island
  • Highlights are Auckland, Raglan, Waitomo Caves, Hobbiton, Taupo, New Plymouth, Egmont National Park, and Wellington.

Day 1 – Auckland 

Day 2 – Drive to Raglan 

Day 3 – Raglan 

Day 4 – Drive to Rotorua via Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton 

Day 5 – Rotorua

Day 6 – Road trip to Taupo 

Day 7 – Drive to New Plymouth 

Day 8 – New Plymouth 

Day 9 – Drive to Wellington 

Day 10 – Wellington

Need wheels? For rental cars, I always book with Discover Cars since the website is so easy to use with great prices. For motorhomes and campervans, I really like JUCY/Star RV because of their huge selection and multiple depot locations that make pick-up and drop-off a breeze. Plus, if you use my exclusive discount code DTRAVEL24, you’ll save 5%! You can browse JUCY and Star RV’s availability here and apply the discount code at check-out.

Itinerary #1 – Auckland to Wellington

Bailey walks up to the door of a Hobbit Hole at Hobbiton in New Zealand
Hobbiton is a must!
Bailey drinks wine at a winery on Waiheke Island from Auckland
Cheers from Waiheke Island!

This Auckland to Wellington itinerary is perfect if you’re planning just a North Island trip, or if you’re planning on exploring the South Island too! It works in reverse, so if you are coming from the South Island, simply start this itinerary in Wellington and work your way up to Auckland. Both cities are home to international airports, so it really doesn’t matter which way you go. 

You’ll tick off some of those iconic New Zealand activities on this route, which makes this one of my favorite itineraries! Hit the Coromandel Peninsula (it’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous), drink wine on Waiheke Island, explore all the adventures around Rotorua, and more. You can’t visit the North Island without stopping by Hobbiton, which is so fun whether you like the movies or not!

Day 1 Auckland

Today is your first day in Auckland! If you just arrived or have a full day to explore, you won’t run out of interesting things to do. Before moving to Queenstown I lived in Auckland and got a good feel for all this city has to offer. The Auckland Museum is my top recommendation to orient yourself to the city, and it has a lot of neat exhibits to check out. I’d know – I used to work there! 

The museum is quite popular, so I suggest booking these skip-the-line tickets before you go. 

One of the reasons I love Auckland is because there’s some great outdoor adventure right at your fingertips. Mount Eden is only a 15-minute drive from the city center and offers incredible views of the city and water. If hiking isn’t your thing and you still want incredible outdoor views, I suggest going on this Waitemata Harbour cruise available on weekends. This cruise screams luxury as you sail around on a yacht and sip on some hot beverages and tasty treats, all while enjoying the view!

For a concise plan on your first day here, check out my one-day Auckland Itinerary. This covers even more iconic Auckland sites, like the Weta Workshop and a lovely sunset dinner cruise – sign me up! 

Where to stay in Auckland (2 nights)

Budget-friendly – The Attic Backpackers (also bookable on Hostelworld)

Mid-range – CityLife Auckland

Luxury – The Grand by SkyCity

Or for more ideas, check out my full guide on where to stay in Auckland!

Day 2 Day trip to Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island is my absolute favorite place to go to escape the city. You get to embark on a gorgeous ferry ride (which I always find to be so much fun!) and then enjoy the stunning beaches paired with swanky wineries. Could you ask for anything better? 

Depart from your hotel in Auckland and hop on the Fullers Fast ferry to cross over to the island. There are dozens of ferries you can catch between 6:30 am and 11:45 pm (7:30 am to 10:45 pm on Sundays), so you have a lot of flexibility on your start time. 

Once you arrive, you can enjoy all these incredible activities on Waiheke Island – or join the wine tour I’ll discuss below!

View of the vineyards on Waiheke Island on a wine tour
The real reason I come to Waiheke is for the wine!

If you plan on wine tasting here, I recommend leaving your rental car in Auckland and joining a tour. I went on this food and wine tour that starts the moment you step off the ferry. I was able to visit three incredible vineyards and sample some of the best food I had on this trip, including Waiheke oysters, various cheeses, and a giant artesian lunch platter. I can’t forget about the wine, which was so yummy I had to take home a bottle! 

This tour was 5.5 hours, which gave me some time to explore the island on my own before heading back to Auckland. I thought this was a great price, as it included lots of food, drinks, and transport all for $272 NZD.

Day 3 Drive to Coromandel (stay in Hot Water Beach or Hahei)

Getting to Coromandel from Auckland is a 168-kilometer (104-mile) drive and takes a quick 2.5 hours. Whenever I make this journey I either stay in Hahei or Hot Water Beach (they are close together). I suggest leaving Auckland early enough to travel to Coromandel with time to explore in the afternoon. 

If you didn’t go wine tasting on Waiheke yesterday (or want to go for round 2), check out Mercury Bay Estate Winery, it’s absolutely stunning!

Sometimes I feel a bit antsy after driving and want to stretch my legs, so I take the short hike to Mt Paku Summit – it’s a great intro to the area! But my favorite activity here is relaxing in The Lost Spring geothermal pools (check out the spa treatments to kick the luxury level up a notch). For those traveling with kids, check out the Driving Creek Railway Explorer train, it’s a hit for little ones!

For those outdoor enthusiasts like me, you’ll love staying the night in the Pinnacles Hut via the Pinnacles Walk. This route is a bit deceiving in calling it a “walk” because it’s more of a scramble and trek. It is 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) each way and takes about 6 hours round trip – but it’s a great trek if you’re an avid hiker. Be sure to book your spot in the hut in advance, reservations are required and very popular!

Where to stay at Hot Water Beach or Hahei (2 nights)

Budget (for hikers) – Pinnacles Hut

Budget (great for families) – Hot Water Beach TOP 10 Holiday Park

Mid-range – Hahei Beach Resort (private cabins at a great price!)

Day 4 Coromandel

The Coromandel Peninsula is an absolute gem on the North Island. It’s gorgeous and full of unique things, such as Hot Water Beach! You can actually dig your own hot pool on the beach, but you have to go early in the morning when the tides are favorable. It’s hard to get me out of bed early in the morning, but a sunrise at Hot Water Beach will do it every time! Be sure to check the tide times before you go, and also my guide to finding the exact spot at Hot Water Beach.

A lady relaxes at Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel, New Zealand
Hot Water Beach is amazing

If you decide to stay in the Pinnacles Hut, don’t feel like you’re missing out. There is an incredible view of the sunrise from here too!

You can’t come to the Coromandel without visiting Cathedral Cove, so this is the main event today. The Cathedral Cove Walk is a beautiful way to experience the area, but it’s often closed due to weather. I recommend checking the DOC website for the most up-to-date information. 

If it is closed, there are other ways to experience the cove. I actually prefer going on this small-group kayak tour, as you get to explore more of the area and kayaking is so much fun! There is also a water taxi service that departs from Hahei and takes you to the cove. It’s a cheaper way to get there, and still very convenient.

Day 5 Drive to Rotorua via Wairere Falls and Hobbiton

Get ready for an epic road trip, because I have one of the most fun days set for you! You’ll be going from the Coromandel to Rotorua with two very important detours. Just because it’s an epic road trip doesn’t mean it’s super long, in fact, with the detours your drive time will still be just 3.5 hours. 

Your first stop is Wairere Falls, just two hours from Coromandel. I’ve seen a lot of waterfalls on the North Island, and I’d have to say this one is the prettiest! It’s also the highest waterfall on the island, so that helps with its prestige. The best way to see it is to hike the Wairere Falls Track to the lower viewpoint, which takes about 3 hours. 

The other detour is the most popular place to visit on the North Island – Hobbiton! Hobbiton is the famous film location for the Shire in Lord of the Rings. This place is impressive whether you’re a fan of the movies or not (take it from me!). I even wrote about everything you should know before visiting Hobbiton, and one of these things is that you need to book a tour to see it.

My top tip is to book this Hobbiton tour, which gives you an in-depth guided tour of the grounds for 2.5 hours. You’ll be shuttled to all the different locations on the 12-acre (4.8-hectare) property and finish with a tasty Middle-earth-inspired beverage. You’ll also get a Hobbit Hole experience, which is a new addition to this tour.

Tours include admission and run all day long. They cost $120 NZD, but I highly recommend booking in advance. It’s almost always busy and it’d be a shame to be sold out when you arrive!

Where to stay in Rotorua (3 nights)

Budget – Rock Solid Backpackers Rotorua (also bookable on Hostelworld)

Mid-range – Thermal Oak Motel

Luxury – Rydges Rotorua

Day 6 Rotorua

Looking for a bit of a thrill on this road trip? I know I always am, so stopping by Rotorua is a must! Rotorua is the adventure capital of the North Island, and my favorite way to get my heart racing is to go whitewater rafting. Especially considering that this 5-star rafting tour goes over the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.

To say it’s thrilling almost feels like an understatement! But I had a lot of fun on this whitewater experience and know you will too.

White water rafting on the Kaituna River in New Zealand
Just after the highest waterfall on the Kaituna River! What a crazy experience!

Another great way to get outside is to spend some time in the Whakarewarewa Forest. I love hiking the Redwood Memorial Grove Track for a quick way to enjoy nature, but if you’re looking for more excitement, this mountain bike tour delivers!

For a family-friendly activity, check out this Zorb ball ride, which is an inflatable ball that you run around in like a hamster. It will be a memorable activity, to say the least! 

Exploring Rotorua isn’t complete without a soak in some hot pools. This area is surrounded by geothermal activity so you have no shortage of amazing pools. My favorite is this Secret Spot Hot Tub, which is tucked away in the trees making you feel like it’s your own personal relaxing hideaway.

Another great option is the Polynesian Spa with its 28 different hot pools! 

For dinner, hit ‘Eat Streat where you’ll find a bunch of amazing restaurants, so choose one that speaks to you. However, you have to stop by Lady Janes for a Danish ice cream cone afterward because they are to die for!

Day 7 Drive to Taupo

The route between Rotorua and Taupo is quite short, only 81 kilometers (50 miles) so it’s about 1 hour’s journey. The drive is super scenic and full of interesting stops. But word to the wise, there are a lot of traffic police patrolling along this road, so watch your speed! 

You’re still in geothermal territory here, so stopping by Te Puia and seeing the Pohutu Geyser erupt is an absolute must! This geothermal valley has a lot of Māori culture, so you can learn about their traditions and craftsmanship while here too. 

Just down the road is the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. I enjoyed taking this self-guided walking tour of the valley which helped me learn all about this place and take in the scenery at my own pace. After this, I like to cool off with a swim at Kerosene Creek, but be warned, it has a bit of a funky smell!

If you’re making good time, stop by the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, yet another fascinating stop. The Lady Knox Geyser erupts at 10:15 am, but you’ll probably miss it if you follow this itinerary, and the last admission for the day is 3 pm. But there are great walking paths and the gorgeous Champagne Pool that’s worth a visit (it’s not really full of champagne – sorry!). 

Inferno Crater Lake at Waimangu Volcanic Valley
Inferno Crater Lake at Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Where to stay in Taupo (2 nights)

Budget – Taupo Debretts Spa Resort

Mid-range – Baycrest Thermal Lodge

Luxury – Hilton Lake Taupo

Day 8 Taupo

Taupo may be a small town, but it isn’t lacking in things to do! One of my top activities in Taupo is exploring the Craters of the Moon geothermal field. I know I packed this itinerary full of geothermal spots, but they are all uniquely different, and if you’ve never seen them before you won’t tire of this activity! 

Another one of my go-to activities is seeing the powerful Huka Falls. The longest river in New Zealand feeds these falls, so going on this jet boat tour that takes you right up close to the falls is a must! It’s pretty exciting, just prepare to get wet!

Okay, but the truly best thing to do in Taupo is take this kayaking tour to the Maori Rock Carvings on Lake Taupo. These carvings are awe-inspiring and have so much history, so getting up close on a kayak was truly special! But if you’re looking for something more relaxing, I also enjoyed this yacht tour. I went on this in the evening and they provide a free glass of wine or beer, making this luxury experience even better!

Day 9 Drive to Wellington

While there is a lot more to explore on the North Island, we are running out of time on this 10-day itinerary! So instead of making side quests to Napier and wine country, I’m having you go straight from Taupo to Wellington, which is 373 kilometers (232 miles) and will take just under 5 hours. 

This route follows Lake Taupo to begin, so you’ll get some seriously beautiful scenery! As you get to the other side of the lake, there is a great network of hiking trails along the Tongariro River. The Tongariro River Trail is 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) and takes about 3 hours to complete, but if you don’t have that much time I recommend just hiking to the Red Hut Bridge section of this trail. 

Tongariro River Trail, New Zealand
The Red Hut Bridge!
Tongariro River Trail 1
The Tongariro River is gorgeous!

If you need a coffee and lunch break along this drive, I love stopping at MOOMAA Cafe. They serve all-day breakfast and have great coffee, and they are also a design shop so the aesthetic is so unique! This cafe closes at 2 pm, so keep that in mind as you plan your stops. 

As you get closer to Wellington, take a stop at the Southward Car Museum, which I found to be really fun, even though I’m not that into cars! This stop pairs perfectly with the Wellington Tramway Museum, only 10 minutes down the road, and is great for history lovers.

For more travel inspo on day 9, check out even more stops between Taupo and Wellington here. Just make sure to budget enough time for the actual drive!

Where to stay in Wellington (2 nights)

Budget – The Marion Hostel (also bookable on Hostelworld)

Mid-range – Ramada by Wyndham

Luxury – Doubletree By Hilton Wellington (I stayed here on a business trip and loved it!)

Day 10 Wellington

Your last full day of this road trip is in Wellington. This city is severely underrated, so I have heaps of suggestions on how to use your time – pick and choose as you please! 

If you’re a movie fanatic or, more specifically, a Lord of the Rings fanatic, booking a tour of the Wētā Workshop is essential! This is one of the largest special effects producers in the world, so you can see how some of your favorite movie characters (like Gollum) are made. 

Another iconic Wellington area to explore is the Zealandia eco-sanctuary. This place is massive and full of native bird life, reptiles, and plants. I took this walking tour of Zealandia and learned so much – this is ideal for nature lovers!

Bailey poses for a photo with the troll out the front of Wētā Workshop and Cave in Wellington
Weta Workshop has so much to see!
Bailey walks down some steps at Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Wellington
Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Wellington

Wellington is a really scenic city, so I like to ride the famous cable car during the day, and then make my way to the top of Mount Victoria Lookout for an epic sunset view! After this, hit Cuba Street for a lively night out. You’ll find eclectic and vibrant businesses, cafes, and restaurants, such as Florditas for dinner or Fidel’s for brunch before you leave tomorrow!

If you want to maximize your time in Wellington, this full-day city tour is a great option. You’ll stop by a lot of the places I’ve already mentioned, plus more important sites like the Lady Norsewood Botanical Garden, the Parliament Building, and Old St. Paul’s Cathedral. Plus, you’ll have a local guide so you can learn all about the city – and there’s a lot to uncover here, trust me!

Related Read: Heading to the South Island next? Check out my guide on catching the inter-island ferry to figure out when and how to get there!

Why I Book Tours on Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book all of my tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here

Itinerary #2 – North Island Loop with Northland

Bailey looks down at the valley on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand
Tongariro Crossing!
Bailey enjoys the view at the Sky Tower in Auckland
Don’t miss the Sky Tower in Auckland!

This specific itinerary is a loop, so it makes planning your flights easy as you can fly in and out of Auckland. If you have a similar travel style to me, you’ll absolutely love this road trip. I’ve filled it with incredible beaches and surfing, plus some off-the-beaten-track activities. 

I also have included the volcanic activity around Rotorua, Hobbiton, and the stunning Tongariro Alpine Crossing. You will not be bored with this itinerary!

Day 1 Auckland

Auckland is a lively city, with so much to explore. I lived here before moving to Queenstown, and while I definitely love the smaller vibes of Queenstown, I appreciate how much there is to do in Auckland! The Auckland Museum is a great place to start as it gives you a good overview of the city and the North Island as a whole. I recommend booking these skip-the-line tickets, as the museum gets really busy at times. 

For those Lord of the Rings fans (I know you’re out there!) be sure to pay a visit to Weta Workshop Unleashed, it won’t disappoint! One of my favorite parts of Auckland is Mount Eden, so you can take a quick hike to the top for killer views. Auckland is also known as “the city of sails” and setting sail on this cruise on Waitemata Harbour is a great way to experience its namesake!

However if you need a bit more guidance in your city exploration, no worries! I have a one-day Auckland itinerary that includes the top sites, best restaurants, and can’t-miss activities all in a streamlined fashion. I’ve personally used this itinerary lots of times as friends visit, so it’s a good one, take it from me!

Where to stay in Auckland

Budget-friendly – The Attic Backpackers (also bookable on Hostelworld)

Mid-range – CityLife Auckland

Luxury – The Grand by SkyCity

Day 2 Drive to Paihia

Today is your first day of officially road-tripping, so you’re starting with one of my favorite routes! The drive from Auckland to Paihia is 230 kilometers (124 miles) and takes just over 3 hours directly. The scenery along this route is incredible, I wrote a full blog post about the best stops – so take your time with this drive! I’d plan on this drive taking about 6 hours with all the stops. 

I love breaking up this drive by taking a swim at Browns Bay Beach Reserve or at Piroa Falls. Also, be sure to stop at the scenic lookout at Brynderwyns Road, it truly boasts the North Island’s beauty. And of course, get your first glimpse of glow worms at the Waipu Caves (plus they are free – yay!).

Hopefully, you make it to Paihia in time to join a tour of the Waitangi Treaty Ground. This important historic sight is where a treaty was signed between the Maori and Europeans! My favorite way to finish off this day of driving is to enjoy some fish and chips at Oceans 68. The view of the water at sunset is the perfect end to day 2 of this road trip!

Bailey on a Bay of Islands cruise from Paihia
Exploring the Bay of the Islands on a cruise is a blast!

Where to stay in Paihia (2 nights)

Budget – Haka Lodge Paihia (also bookable on Hosteworld)

Mid-range – The Te Tiriti Motel

Day 3 Paihia

Looking for some island exploration while you’re in New Zealand? I have good news, there are 144 islands right of Paihia in the Bay of Islands! The best way to experience this area is by joining this small-group cruise – not only did I get up close to these beautiful islands, but I also got to snorkel and SUP! Mind you, it’s only available in warmer months so check tour availability closer to the date.

Another cruise option that I really enjoyed was this Hole in the Rock cruise. This one took us to the iconic hole in the rock and we even sailed right through it! But the real reason I loved this cruise was because we were on a fancy catamaran boat and also got to spot dolphins. I recommend taking the morning tour so you have time to take the ferry to Russel and explore Flagstaff Hill in the afternoon. 

While the Bay of Islands is the big-ticket activity in Paihia, there is really so much more to this town. There are a handful of amazing waterfalls to find, such as Rainbow Falls and Wharepuke Falls. You can spot these on the Kerikeri River Walking Track, which is a great way to get outside!

Another unique area to explore is the Kawiti Caves, just a quick 20-minute drive from Paihia. These are another glow worm cave that not many people know about, so you might be the only one in there – how cool!?

You also can’t visit Paihia without going on this Bay of Islands wine tour, because there is too much tasty wine in this region to pass up! It’s only available on weekends, so hopefully your day 3 falls on a Saturday or Sunday.

Day 4 Drive to Whangarei

After your days in Paihia, it’s time to make the 70.5-kilometer (44-mile) stretch to Whangarei! This route will only take you an hour, but the scenery changes so much in that drive. Whangarei is called “the City of 100 Beaches”, and while I don’t know if there are literally 100 beaches, I do know that the best one is Ocean Beach! It is incredibly beautiful, not too crowded, and ideal for surfing or paddleboarding. 

I like to get some exercise in by hiking to the Bream Head Scenic Lookout. I definitely broke a sweat and it took about 3 hours to complete. But, I rewarded myself by relaxing on the beach after, so it’s all worth it! Otuihau Whangarei Falls is another fun area to explore, and a much easier hike. The 1-kilometer (0.6 miles) loop takes about 15 minutes and takes you to a stunning waterfall – it’s a high payout for little work on this hike!

Bailey takes a selfie at the top of Bream Head Scenic Reserve near Whangarei, New Zealand
The Bream Head Scenic Lookout near Whangarei!

Where to stay in Whangarei

Tonight is a fantastic opportunity to go freedom camping! You can check out all the possible freedom camping sites in Whangarei here, but my personal pick is Parua Bay. It’s only a 5-minute walk to the Parua Bay Tavern for pizza, live music, and epic sunsets over the water. Oh, yes, and a glass of wine or two to help you sleep!

If you’re considering freedom camping in a campervan, check out my guide to the most trusted campervan rentals in New Zealand. Personally, I like JUCY Rentals the best!

But of course, camping isn’t for everyone. As far as hotels in Whangarei go, I love BK’s Pohutakawa Lodge which has been recently renovated, or Lupton Lodge for its rural setting with great beaches nearby.

Day 5 Drive from Whangarei to Raglan

Your next stop tonight is Raglan, which is about a 4-hour drive from Whangarei. This 316-kilometer (196-mile) stretch is a bit long, but there are plenty of stops to break up the distance.

Hit the road early then stop at the Honey Cafe Takapuna for some breakfast! Continue driving towards Hamilton and stop at the Zealong Tea Estate for high tea. This is a fun way to get a caffeine fix, just be sure to reserve your spot before you go

As you get closer to Raglan, stop by Bridal Veil Falls. As part of my list of the best waterfalls in New Zealand, these falls are super popular and not to be missed, especially since it’s a nice 20-minute stroll from the car park. If you’re looking for a little bit more movement, check out the surf scene at Manu Bay, or I recommend Ngarunui Beach for beginners. Finally, stop by Michael Hope Lookout for sunset!

Where to stay in Raglan (3 nights)

Budget – Raglan Backpackers (beachfront views!) (also bookable on Hostelworld)

Spacious and Unique Accommodation – Silos Apartments (they are converted cement silos!)

Day 6 Raglan

Raglan is such a fun area to explore, especially if you love beaches like I do! This is a great area to surf and I usually hit the two spots I mentioned above. If you’ve surfed before, you know how exhausting a full day of it is, so I also love laying on the beach or taking a relaxing yoga class at The Space. Afterward, I enjoy grabbing a pint of beer at Workshop Brewing!

For the evening, continue exploring Raglan’s coastline on this sunset cruise – it’s insanely gorgeous! But you also get to learn about the long-standing Maori culture and the local ecosystem as you cruise. When I took this boat ride, we also saw orcas, making this fun evening even more enjoyable! 

A lady stands on a rock at Raglan Beach during sunset
The sunsets in Raglan are so gorgeous! Imagine wine with your loved one here!

Day 7 Raglan to Rotorua via Hobbiton

Today we have one of the most important North Island stops as we travel from Raglan to Rotorua. Even with this stop the total drive time is only 2 hours and 20 minutes (166 km/103 miles), so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the sites. 

Take off from Raglan and head towards Hobbiton! This is possibly the most popular tourist attraction in New Zealand, so it’s best to book your Hobbiton tour in advance (which you’re required to have to visit). Hobbiton is fun to explore, even though I’m not the biggest LOTR fan myself, I really enjoyed this experience. 

Once you reach Rotorua, spend the evening relaxing in the Secret Spot Hot Tubs. These hot pools are my favorite in all of New Zealand (and I’ve tried a lot) and they are so luxurious. They even bring drinks right to your hot tub!

Where to stay in Rotorua (2 nights)

Budget – Rock Solid Backpackers Rotorua (also bookable on Hostelworld)

Mid-range – Thermal Oak Motel

Luxury – Rydges Rotorua

Related Read: This is one of the best places on the North Island. Read my guide on the best things to do in Rotorua to see why I love it so much!

Day 8 Rotorua

There are so many wonderful things about Rotorua, it’s hard to narrow down just a few to this list! The most impressive element is the volcanic activity, so I highly recommend booking a mud bath at Hells Gate – it’s much more luxurious than it sounds!

Rotorua also has the world’s highest commercial waterfall drop, so the whitewater rafting scene here is big. I personally went on this rafting tour and had so much fun!

If you’re looking for a less intense activity, this Zorb inflatable ball ride (which I mentioned in the previous itinerary) is super entertaining and great for families. I also love riding the Skyline Gondola, which gives incredible views of Rotorua below. Best of all, Volcanic Hills Winery is at the top, so of course I stopped for a glass of wine (or a few!).

Rotorua has yet another claim to fame, and that’s its preservation of traditional culture. There’s a chance to experience it for yourself by booking a tour of Te Pā Tū, a Maori cultural village. My mom and I went and got to play Maori games, watch a haka, and try some of their traditional food!

Bailey at the Rotorua Maori experience.
A Māori culture tour is a must-do in Rotorua!

Day 9 Tongariro National Alpine Crossing (stay in Taupo)

Today you’ll have to wake up early to take the hour-long drive to Taupo, which is 81 kilometers (50 miles). You don’t want to dilly-dally too long because you have quite a day ahead of you – hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing!

To be upfront with you, this is a difficult hike and will take all day. But, it’s also one of those amazing, once-in-a-lifetime hikes worth the effort! With barren volcanic landscapes, insanely blue waters, and impressive mountain peaks, you’ll quickly understand its value. A lot of Lord of the Rings scenes were filmed here, and you’ll see why when you step foot here. 

This trek is 19 kilometers (12 miles) each way and will take anywhere from 6 to 9 hours, depending on how fast you go. Because of its length, you won’t be able to hike out and back, but there is a convenient shuttle that will drop you off at the start of the hike and pick you up at the end of the track. You can check the details and book this shuttle here

An important note about this hike is that it can be quite dangerous, but is certainly doable if you are a smart hiker. I recommend reading my guide to hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing before taking off. 

Where to stay in Taupo

Budget – Taupo Debretts Spa Resort

Mid-range – Baycrest Thermal Lodge

Luxury – Hilton Lake Taupo

Day 10 Drive to Auckland

And just like that, we’ve reached the final day of the road trip! Even though it’s the last day, that doesn’t mean we’re completely done with the fun. Today we head to Auckland over a 270-kilometer (168-mile) drive that will take about 4 hours. 

Start by making a stop at Te Kōhatu o Hatupatu, which is a sacred Maori site. Legend has it that a powerful Maori chief hid from Kurangaituku (a bird woman) before he inevitably defeated her. 

What is a road trip without some food? I love stopping at Punnett Eatery for brunch and my go-to dish is the chili scrambled eggs. I also always grab a jar of the strawberry jam to go too! Let brunch settle by taking a stroll through the iconic Hamilton Gardens – they are simply beautiful. Then your final stretch of driving is 1.5 hours back to Auckland!

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Itinerary #3 – Auckland to Wellington Volcanic Road Trip

Bailey sits in the door of a red Hobbit home at Hobbiton, NZ
You don’t want to miss Hobbiton!
Bailey drinking craft beer in Auckland
Cheers from Auckland!

Similar to my other Auckland to Wellington itinerary, this one can be done starting from either city. Both have international airports, and if you’re continuing your travels you can easily catch the ferry to the South Island in Wellington. 

This itinerary is quite different from the other Auckland to Wellington route, this one is all about that gorgeous volcanic landscape! There’s a lot of outdoor adventure on this one (my fave!) and some other classic North Island sites, so buckle up. 

Day 1 Auckland

Auckland is a fantastic launch point for adventure, it is the largest city in the country after all! The best way to get an overview of the city is by joining this Auckland Harbour cruise, which is available on weekends and takes you by significant sites (and you get to cruise, win-win!).

If you’re keen on learning about the city’s history, stop by the Auckland Museum. I used to work there and have seen the entrance line ridiculously long, so book these skip-the-line tickets here

The Weta Workshop Unleashed is a super fascinating stop for Lord of the Rings fans and movie buffs alike. I was surprised at how much fun I had there and I’m not even the biggest fan of the movies! Finally, my favorite Auckland activity is hiking to the top of Mount Eden for world-class sunset views.

Where to stay in Auckland

Budget-friendly – The Attic Backpackers (also bookable on Hostelworld)

Mid-range – CityLife Auckland

Luxury – The Grand by SkyCity

Day 2 Drive to Raglan

The first destination on this 10-day road trip is Raglan! The drive from Auckland to Raglan is 2 hours (159 km/99 miles) and of course, I have some great stops planned for you. Swing by Whatawhata Berry Farm to pick your own berries (a great road trip snack) or try some of the freshest ice cream you’ll ever taste! Bridal Veil Falls is another one of my favorite stops along this route, and it’s a short 20-minute walk to the stunning waterfall from the car park.

Since you’ll get to Raglan pretty quickly, stop in at the Orca Eatery and grab a cup of coffee, or check out Manu Bay for an afternoon of surfing! Finish off your evening in my favorite way – an epic sunset spot! Michael Hope Lookout is the best place to see the sunset in Raglan, so don’t miss out. 

A lady climbs the stairs at Manu Bay at sunset in Raglan, New Zealand
Manu Bay is another great spot for sunset!

Where to stay in Raglan (2 nights)

Budget – Raglan Backpackers (beachfront views!) (also bookable on Hostelworld)

Spacious and Unique Accommodation – Silos Apartments (they are converted cement silos!)

Day 3 Raglan 

If you’re a surfer, you’ll love Raglan. Actually, even if you’re not a surfer you’ll love this quaint town, but it’s especially great for catching a wave. I mentioned Manu Bay previously, but I recommend Ngarunui Beach for beginners. You can also enjoy the water by renting from Raglan Kayaks and Paddleboards at the Bow Street Jetty and exploring Raglan Harbour and the Pancake Rocks. 

Afterward, swing by the downtown area and enjoy a cup of coffee at Raglan Roast. This area is super cute, so I always enjoy just wandering around for a bit.  

If you can’t tell by now, I love a good sunset, and the best way to experience it is by going on a sunset cruise! This sunset cruise along Raglan Harbour is the best way to explore the stunning coastline, watch the sun go down, and dine on a fish and chips dinner. This experience costs $75 NZD – which isn’t bad for all it includes!

Day 4 Drive to Rotorua via Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton 

The route from Raglan to Rotorua is one of my favorites because you visit some iconic North Island locations. The drive is 251 kilometers (156 miles), including the two detours. 

The first stop is the famous Waitomo Caves, where you can see the glow worms! These are perhaps the best glow worms in New Zealand, and I dedicated an entire blog to info about the Waitomo Caves. Plus, you have to ride a boat to get to them, so it’s a pretty exciting experience.

I suggest booking this Waitomo Cave tour in advance because it’s definitely a popular tour and you don’t want to waste your day waiting in line! 

Next, make your way to Hobbiton and explore the Shire! You’ll need to book your tour in advance because a tour is required to visit and it can get super busy if you wait to join a tour when you arrive (take it from my personal experience!). 

By the time you make it to Rotorua, you’ll probably be pretty tired because it is a busy day. Book a soak in the Secret Spot hot pools and order a glass of wine to enjoy in the tub – how relaxing!

Scenic shot of the green hills at the Hobbiton Movie Set in New Zealand
You get to tour the entire movie set!

Where to stay in Rotorua (2 nights)

Budget – Rock Solid Backpackers Rotorua (also bookable on Hostelworld)

Mid-range – Thermal Oak Motel

Luxury – Rydges Rotorua

Day 5 Rotorua 

We are officially into volcano territory! Some of the major geothermal highlights are along your drive to Taupo (coming up next) but my actual favorite experience is booking a mud bath at Hells Gate! As the only spot where you can find a sulfur spa treatment in the country, you don’t want to skip out on this one.

For an adventure activity, join this whitewater rafting excursion over the tallest commercially rafted waterfall in the world – it’s not for the faint of heart!

I also love getting into Maori culture and think this is an essential stop if this is your first time in Rotorua. You can join this tour of Te Pā Tū, which is an immersive Maori village experience. We played games, saw dance performances, and tried an authentic feast, which was as delicious as it sounds! 

Rotora is really beautiful, so a fun way to dive into the outdoors is by taking a mountain bike tour if you’re the adventurous type!

However, the most fun tour in Rotorua is this zipline tour! I got to soar over the 500-year-old forest and see some amazing views. This experience has nearly 4,000 positive reviews – check them out and book this ziplining adventure here

Day 6 Road trip to Taupo

It’s a quick road trip from Rotorua to Taupo, only 1 hour and 80 kilometers (50 miles). However, like most stretches on this road trip, I won’t let you simply drive straight through! I usually spend about 3-4 hours driving along this volcanic route, as there’s so much to see. 

The #1 place you can visit is the Te Puia geyser field, as it’s wildly impressive. I also joined a guided tour here and found it super insightful. Wai-O-Tapu is another great stopping point, as it has the largest mud pool in the country. Here, you’ll find the Lady Knox Geyser, but you’ll have to get here early, as it erupts every day at 10:15 am!

Another stop I love along this route is Huka Falls, right before you reach Taupo. This is yet another impressive natural wonder, and if you’re short on time, you can check it out from the footbridge. However, it’s really fun to see up close on this jet boating tour. and jet boating is a really fun experience, let’s be honest!

Landscape view of Huka Falls in Taupo, NZ
Huka Falls is so cool!

Where to stay in Taupo

Budget – Taupo Debretts Spa Resort

Mid-range – Baycrest Thermal Lodge

Luxury – Hilton Lake Taupo

Day 7 Drive to New Plymouth

Today is probably your longest stretch of driving for this itinerary. You’ll be traveling 278 kilometers (173 miles) which is about 4 hours of road time. I recommend hitting the road as early as you can! My recommended stops are near New Plymouth, so grab some coffee, crank the tunes, and enjoy the morning drive to start. 

About one hour before you hit New Plymouth, you’ll find the Three Sisters and Elephant Rock. These are truly impressive sandstone monoliths and rock formations right along the coast, and they reflect into the water for truly epic views. I visited at low tide and could walk right up to Elephant Rock, see the Maori carvings, and enjoy the scenery.

What’s a road trip without a little adventure to find a hidden gem? The White Cliffs Walkway is definitely worth a detour, and it’s about 40 minutes from the previous stop. These cliffs are quiet and secluded, so if you want to just sit and soak in the scenery, this is the place to do it!

Where to stay in New Plymouth (2 nights)

Budget – Ariki Backpackers (also bookable on Hostelworld)

Mid-range – The Devon Hotel (includes free mountain bike rental!)

Luxury – Millennium Hotel New Plymouth

Day 8 New Plymouth

A lot of the North Island cities are highly undervalued, and there’s a lot to do in New Plymouth. I also recommend visiting Egmont National Park – I have a full guide to visiting here!

To give you an overview, Egmont National Park is great for hiking. I love the short walk to Dawson Falls and also the Pouakai Tarn and Hut trek. This park is insanely beautiful, so you must get the iconic photo on Kent Road with Mount Taranaki towering behind you. 

Spend the day adventuring around the national park, and then head to town and pick up the famous Snappers Fish and Chips. I like to take them to go and enjoy dinner on East End Beach. Finish off your day with a pint of craft beer from Shining Peak or Three Sisters breweries and you can’t go wrong!

Taranaki from New Plymouth
The view of Mount Taranaki from New Plymouth!

Day 9 Drive to Wellington

The last major haul on this drive is to reach Wellington! The journey from New Plymouth to Wellington is 354 kilometers (220 miles) and would take 4.5 hours without stops (but it’s not like we are going to skip stops!). I absolutely adore Waihi Beach, which lies just 1 hour south of New Plymouth and is a great spot to stretch your legs. 

You’ll have a bit of driving before you stop again, but before you know it you’ll be about 50 minutes to Wellington and can stop at the Nga Manu Nature Reserve. This place is super relaxing and wonderful for seeing keas, kakas, whips, and other native New Zealand bird life. And once you reach Wellington, stop in at Hanging Ditch for a cocktail! They are super quirky and delicious. 

Where to stay in Wellington

Budget – The Marion Hostel (also bookable on Hostelworld)

Mid-range – Ramada by Wyndham

Luxury – Doubletree By Hilton Wellington (I’ve stayed here and it was great!)

Day 10 Wellington 

As we come to a close of the last 10-day road trip itinerary, I’m going to send you off with a bang! There is truly so much to do in Wellington after all. The top pick is, of course, Weta Workshop. Check out all the special effects from Lord of the Rings and other major films, but be sure to buy your admission ticket in advance as it’s a popular site. 

Swing by Cuba Street for brunch at Fidels, and explore all the quaint shops in this area. For history buffs, you’ll love the Te Papa Museum. I’m not even a huge museum lover and I was blown away by this one! Admission to the museum is free but you can also take this early bird tour, which gives you an in-depth look at the exhibits and a tour guide to fill you in on all the info. 

Bailey looks at life size figurines at Wētā Workshop and Cave in Wellington
Photos with Gollum!

If you catch Wellington on a nice sunny day, take a walk through the 120-year-old botanical gardens or take a ride on the historic cable car. Another one of my favorite sunny-day activities is to visit Zealandia. If you’ve never been before, I recommend joining this walking tour of Zealandia because you can learn all about the history and the remarkable native plants here. 

There is so much to see in this iconic city, so I also think booking a full-day city tour is a fantastic way to fit it all in. You’ll visit many of the sites I’ve already listed, but also check out historic buildings like Parliament and Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, as well as Mount Victoria Lookout. This is ideal if you want to learn a lot and have the convenience of someone planning your day – who doesn’t love that!?

And if you’re staying even longer here, read my full list of fun things to do in Wellington!

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey takes a selfie in raglan, NZ
Thanks for reading!

Whether this is your first or fiftieth time road-tripping around the North Island, you will always discover something remarkable! I loved putting together these three itineraries for you, and I’m now itching to explore this area again. No matter which itinerary you go with, I know you’ll have a blast!

Thanks so much for reading! If you found this article helpful and need more itineraries, tips, or travel inspiration, be sure to check out the rest of my North Island blogs. Here are a few popular posts to get you started.

Best Time to Visit the North Island – From a Local!

18 Things to KNOW Before Renting a Car in Wellington +My Personal Tips

How to Spend the BEST 2 Days in Auckland: A Detailed Itinerary

27 BEST Hikes on the North Island of New Zealand (for all levels!)