Experience the great outdoors of New Zealand's North Island on this week-long, road trip itinerary. Loop your way south from Auckland to spot whales in Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, hike through the lush rainforests of the Waitakere Ranges, and glimpse the real Middle-earth in Matamata. Discover the geothermal marvels of Wai-O-Tapu in Rotorua, take an evening kayak tour into the glowworm canyons of Tauranga, and end your adventure back in Auckland with a sunset harbor dinner cruise.


  • See dolphins and whales on a marine excursion in Auckland
  • Visit the real-life Middle-earth in Hobbiton
  • Explore the glowworm caves of Tauranga 
  • Experience the world-famous geothermal marvel of Wai-O-Tapu

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland & Get to Know the City Auckland
Day 2 Go Whale & Dolphin Watching, Discover the Rainforests of Waitakere  Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton Rotorua
Day 4 Experience the Geothermal Magic of Wai-O-Tapu Rotorua
Day 5 Drive to Tauranga, Evening Glowworm Kayak Tour Tauranga
Day 6 Drive to Auckland, Take a Harbor Dinner Cruise Auckland
Day 7 Depart Auckland  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland & Get to Know the City

Auckland Ferry Building
Auckland's Ferry Building
Welcome to Auckland! After picking up your rental car, head to your hotel to drop off your bags and then make your way to the Wynyard Quarter, where you can check out the famous Fish Market and then take a ride on one of the restored tramways. Hop off at Britomart Station to find bars, designer shops, and great restaurants, or continue to the historic seaside village of Devonport, which features art galleries and historic points of interest.

If you're more of a nature lover, Mount Eden—the highest point in the city—is the perfect spot for you. From the top, you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, as well as the volcanic cones that create Auckland. If Mount Eden isn't high enough for you, venture to the Sky Tower. The tallest manmade structure in New Zealand offers breathtaking views, and adrenaline seekers can even bungee jump from its heights.

Day 2: Go Whale & Dolphin Watching, Discover the Rainforests of Waitakere 

Karekare Falls
Karekare Falls in the Waitakere Ranges
Begin the day with a half-day cruise that ventures into the beautiful Hauraki Gulf Marine Park in search of its diverse marine wildlife. Spot landmarks like the Harbour Bridge and volcanic Rangitoto Island while keeping an eye out for orcas and dolphins. 

After the tour, drive to the Arataki Centre, which is the gateway to the Waitakere Ranges. This 42,000-acre (16,990 ha) fringe of hills and subtropical rainforest separates Auckland from the surf beaches of the North Island's west coast. An expert guide will take you on an eco-tour of the area's hills, waterfalls, and beaches. It starts in the lush rainforest, where you can hear native birdsong while walking among New Zealand's famous kauri trees and giant ferns. 

Day 3: Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton 

Hobbiton during the magic hour
Today, drive from Auckland to Rotorua by way of the Waikato region. Head toward Matamata, also known as "the real Middle-earth." Here, you can take a guided tour of the set of Hobbiton and other locations used in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "The Hobbit" films. For the super fan, sample traditional Hobbit fare and take an evening tour through The Shire by lamplight. Continue down to Rotorua and stop at the township of Tirau, whose quirky claim to fame is the world's largest tin sheep and sheepdog.

Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
End the day in the geothermal city of Rotorua. Explore the Buried Village, an excavated village that was perfectly preserved after Mount Tarawera erupted in 1886. For a more outdoorsy experience, the Redwood Forest is the perfect place to mountain bike for riders of all experience levels. Those looking to relax can head to the local Polynesian Spa, which offers an incredible thermal spa experience on Lake Rotorua.

Day 4: Experience the Geothermal Magic of Wai-O-Tapu

The colorful Champagne Lake at Wai-O-Tapu
Enjoy a full-day excursion to Wai-O-Tapu, one of New Zealand's most colorful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attractions. Wai-O-Tapu was sculpted by volcanic activity over the course of thousands of years, and today you can follow clearly defined tracks to explore and enjoy the diversity of this area through a series of walks. The extremely walkable site includes loops of varying times and levels, so there's something for everyone here.

Named "one of the most surreal places in the world," Wai-O-Tapu is home to the world-famous Champagne Pool, a vibrant, naturally colored spring. Other fantastic features of the area include bubbling mud, steaming ground, expansive vistas, huge volcanic craters, sinter terrace formations, and the Lady Knox Geyser, which erupts daily to thrilling heights. 

Day 5: Drive to Tauranga, Evening Glowworm Kayak Tour

A path on Mount Maunganui
Today you'll head north to Tauranga, the largest city in the Bay of Plenty. Explore Mount Maunganui, a relaxed beach town with a magnificent surf beach, or hike to the dormant volcano of Mauao. Not to be missed is downtown Tauranga, whose charming streets are filled with historically significant highlights and scenic walks. Nearby you'll find The Stand, a modern waterfront area that's always buzzing and features several cafés, restaurants, pubs, and nightclubs.
At dusk, embark on a glowworm kayak tour, which takes you down the calm waters of the Wairoa River into Glowworm Canyon. This narrow, high-sided canyon at the head of the lake is home to thousands of glowworms. Marvel at their enchanting light and enjoy some refreshments on this tour as you learn about the history and natural features of this area.

Day 6: Drive to Auckland, Take a Harbor Dinner Cruise

Auckland's harbor in the evening
Sunset over Auckland's harbor
A scenic drive from Tauranga takes you back to Auckland this morning. Along the way, consider a stop at the Waiki Gold Discovery Centre for an interactive and intriguing visit to the award-winning Waihi Gold Experience. This hands-on exhibition provides visitors of all ages with unique opportunities to dig into the lives of the early miners and their families to discover what drives the quest for gold and silver.
Once you're settled back in Auckland, spend an unforgettable evening on the water. Enjoy dinner while sailing along Waitemata Harbour and taking in the twinkling lights of of the skyline as you set off toward Westhaven Marina. End the evening with a delicious dessert and a colorful sunset as you sail back to Auckland's vibrant Viaduct Harbour.

Day 7: Depart Auckland

Panoramic view of Auckland
Panoramic view of Auckland
Have a few things left on the Auckland bucket list? This is the perfect day to experience everything you might have yet to see in the city. Consider heading to the Auckland Zoo, which is home to 144 different species, over 1,400 animals, and has the largest diversity of wildlife on the North Island. If you want to discover more marine life, SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium is for you. When the time comes, you'll make your way to the airport to drop off your rental car and catch your departing flight. Safe travels!

More Great New Zealand itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to New Zealand? Check out these other New Zealand itineraries, explore different ways to spend eight days in New Zealand, or discover the best time to visit New Zealand.


Map of Nature-Filled North Island Road Trip - 7 Days
Map of Nature-Filled North Island Road Trip - 7 Days