Ideal for those who want a road trip with a taste of everything, this itinerary will take you from the city lights of Auckland Harbour to the luminescence of Lake McLaren's glowworm canyon. Pamper yourself with a luxurious spa one day, then challenge yourself with whitewater rafting or an alpine hike the next. Experience Maori culture and art, then relax after digging your own beachside hot pool. Whether you choose to dine in Hobbit or Sky Tower-style, this trip will be unforgettable.


  • Indulge in a geothermal spa at Hell's Gate
  • Raft the world's highest commercially-rafted waterfall
  • Marvel at thousands of canyon glowworms from your kayak
  • Learn traditional Maori arts such as weaving or "haka" (war dance)

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Harbor Dinner Cruise Auckland
Day 2 Free Day in Auckland, Tour Rangitoto Island Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton Rotorua
Day 4 Te Puia Tour & Māori Arts, Polynesian Spa  Rotorua
Day 5 The Ultimate Squeeze, Hell's Gate Experience  Rotorua
Day 6 Drive to Taupo, Whitewater Rafting Taupo
Day 7 Hukafalls Jet, Whakapapa Village & Tongariro Hiking Taupo
Day 8 Drive to Tauranga, Mount Maunganui Hike, Glowworm Tour Tauranga
Day 9 Drive to Whitianga, Hahei & Cathedral Cove Whitianga
Day 10 Drive to Paihia, Waitangi Treaty Grounds Paihia
Day 11 Paddle a Māori War Canoe, Hole in the Rock Cruise Paihia
Day 12 Drive to Auckland, Sky Tower Dinner Auckland
Day 13 Depart Auckland  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Harbor Dinner Cruise

Evening view of Auckland, the City of Sails

Welcome to Auckland! After picking up your rental car at the airport, you can choose to relax at your hotel while adjusting to the time change or shake off jet lag by heading to the Sky Tower to go bungee jumping. Whether you're an adrenaline junkie or not, its panoramic views make it an excellent place to begin exploring New Zealand's metropolis. 

Later in the day, take a stroll around Waitemata Harbour, keeping a close lookout for orcas and bottlenose dolphins. As the sun begins to dip into the water, set off on a cruise to Auckland Harbour for dinner with a skyline view. Finish the evening with dessert during a leisurely sail to the Viaduct.

Day 2: Free Day in Auckland, Tour Rangitoto Island

View of Rangitoto Island from Milford Beach
View of Rangitoto Island

Today you can continue to explore the sights of New Zealand's largest city, or you can change things up with a short 25-minute cruise to Rangitoto Island, the largest and youngest of Auckland's volcanic fields. Your guide will meet you with a 4WD vehicle. Once onboard, journey through rugged lava crops and native bush while you learn about the fiery history and geology of the island. You'll disembark at the base of the summit, then take a short walk to the top. After taking in the 360-degree panoramic views, rejoin the tour vehicle for the return trip to the wharf and back to Auckland.

Day 3: Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton

By the campfire at Mitai Maori Village
By the campfire, Mitai Māori Village

Begin today with a leisurely drive through rural Waikato. After passing the Bombay Hills, turn inland toward Matamata, also known as the real Middle-earth. Here you'll be able to take an escorted tour of locations from the "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" films, as well as the actual set of Hobbiton. If you are a true fan, stay a bit longer and get stuck into a hearty Hobbit dinner, followed by an evening tour through The Shire by lamplight.

Continue toward Rotorua, breaking your journey at the township of Tirau. Don't forget to take a selfie with the largest tin sheep and sheepdog! When you reach Rotorua, you have your pick of activities: fishing, 4WD drive trips, relaxing spa treatments, mountain biking, hiking, and helicopter and float plane trips. Spend the evening at Mitai Māori Village, where you can enjoy performances and demonstrations followed by a traditional hāngī (meal).

Day 4: Te Puia Tour & Māori Arts, Polynesian Spa 

Te Puia Springs
Te Puia Springs

Continue exploring Rotorua at Te Puia Springs, which offers you a smorgasbord of adventures. Discover Pōhutu Geyser, one of the largest active geysers in the Southern Hemisphere, or see kiwi forage in a protected nocturnal environment at the Kiwi Conservation Centre. At the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, learn about Māori carving and weaving techniques, meet the artists keeping these traditions alive, and maybe even take some pieces home with you.

For a change of pace, experience Rotorua's geothermal features at the Polynesian Spa on the shore of Lake Rotorua. The spa's main attraction is four alkaline rock pools, each with different temperatures ranging from 96.8°F to 107.6°F (36°C to 42°C). While soaking in the warm water, you'll be able to take in views of the lake, native plants and wildlife, and a nearby grotto.

Day 5: The Ultimate Squeeze, Hell's Gate Experience

Kakahi Falls
Kakahi Falls, a thermal waterfall at Hell's Gate

Kick your day off with "The Ultimate Squeeze," a scenic jet boat ride through Tutukau Gorge followed by a challenging scramble through crevasses and over boulders until you emerge in stunning native New Zealand bush. Take the opportunity to soak up the atmosphere while relaxing in the thermal waters of a naturally heated pool.

If you would rather have a slower-paced day, then the Hell's Gate Experience is for you. Tick off all three geothermal experiences at once: take part in the guided or self-guided interactive geothermal walk before indulging in geothermal mud and acidic sulfur waters, experiencing the healing properties that local Māori have been using for more than 800 years.

Day 6: Drive to Taupo, Whitewater Rafting

White water rafting at Tutea Falls
Whitewater rafting at Tutea Falls

To reach Taupō, drive through the heart of the central North Island volcanic plateau, stopping at the Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland and Waimangu Volcanic Valley on the way. Situated on New Zealand's largest lake, Taupō is a lively place with many shops, bars, and cafés. A whole host of activities can be experienced, such as bungee jumping, sky diving, trout fishing, kayaking, sailing, horse riding, and hiking, to name a few.

Continue the adventure at the Kaituna River, which is home to the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world—the 23-foot (7 m) Tutea Falls. On your 50-minute whitewater rafting trip, you'll pass through steep bush canyons and raft over 13 awesome drops. Blended with a touch of culture, this trip offers it all: with the best gear and guides coupled with a unique mix of history, culture, and adrenaline overload, it's a must!

Day 7: Hukafalls Jet, Whakapapa Village & Tongariro Hiking

Huka falls
The powerful Huka Falls

Start your last day in Taupō with 30 minutes of pure fun and exhilaration, skimming close to cliffs, sliding past trees, and feeling the adrenaline of full 360-degree spins on the Hukafalls Jet. The excitement continues right up to the base of the foaming Huka Falls, where you get a spectacular water-level view of New Zealand's most visited natural attraction. Nothing compares to watching 220,000 liters per second tumbling over the cliff face toward you.

Whether you feel like a stroll afterward or a challenging hike, there are a plethora of walks in and around Whakapapa Village and Tongariro National Park. From short 15-minute hikes to longer five-hour treks, there is something for every fitness level. Marvel at the impressive Taranaki Falls, birdwatch beside the crystal waters of Lake Rotopounamu, discover the golden Silica Rapids or take an easy walk along the ridge from Whakapapa Village for panoramic alpine views. 

Day 8: Drive to Tauranga, Mount Maunganui Hike, Glowworm Tour

View of Mount Maunganui
View of Mount Maunganui (Mauao)

Your next drive sweeps you off to the busy port town of Tauranga and the popular holiday destination of Mount Maunganui. Stretch your legs walking the 2.1-mile (3.4 km) base track of Mauao, Mount Maunganui's iconic mountain, which is New Zealand's single most popular walk. If you are feeling fit, take the scenic track to the 761-foot (232 m) summit for impressive views.

The evening holds something special in store—a sunset kayak trip to the head of Lake McLaren. After a few refreshments on the shore, paddle to the canyon, where, as dusk gives way to the dark, you'll find yourself surrounded by the light of thousands of glowworms. 

Day 9: Drive to Whitianga, Hahei & Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel Peninsula
Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel Peninsula

Today, you'll drive north from Tauranga through rich farmland, rainforest, and coastal areas. Take a break at the historic mining town of Waihi or the resort town of Whangamata. Just south of Whitianga, you'll find Hahei, where you can see the remains of two ancient (fortified villages). At Hot Water Beach, you can dig your own mineral-rich hot pool right there on the shore. Settle in for a while and enjoy the view out to sea.

Once you're ready to go, head toward the world-famous Cathedral Cove. A beautiful 30-minute walk through the native bush will take you down to a secluded beach, where you will be amazed by the massive limestone caves and arches that give the cove its name. A quick dip in the sea, and then you'll head to Whitianga for the night.

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Day 10: Drive to Paihia, Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Waitangi Treaty Grounds
River view of Waitangi Treaty Grounds 

Take off on a scenic drive back down the peninsula and up to Auckland toward Pahia. There are plenty of great points to break your journey—stop at Mount Paku for stunning ocean views, Miranda for bird-watching, historic Puhoi, or Warkworth for art stores and cafés. As you arrive in the subtropical Bay of Islands, you'll be greeted by bush-clad hillsides dropping to golden sand beaches. Paihia is the main tourist center in the bay and has a great beachside atmosphere.

Later, take the short drive to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, one of New Zealand's most important historical sites. Learn about the impact of New Zealand's founding treaty—made between the British Crown and about 540 Māori chiefs—in a visit to the Te Rau Aroha Museum of the Price of Citizenship. You can partake in a Māori cultural performance, visit one of their traditional carved meeting houses at Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi, and admire the craftsmanship of a waka taua—the world's largest ceremonial war canoe.

Day 11: Paddle a Māori War Canoe, Hole in the Rock Cruise

Waka Taua
Detailing on a waka taua at Waitangi

Prepare for a memorable day on the water. Begin by exchanging your car for a traditional waka taua for a trip on the Waitangi River, accompanied by guides from the Ngapuhi tribe. Learn traditional paddle techniques, waka maneuvers, chants, and haka (war dances) while absorbing the breathtaking natural beauty of the Waitangi River. Your hosts will share the legends and oral histories of their tribe, granting you a rare insight into their culture.

In the afternoon, take a scenic cruise to Motukōkako Island (Piercy Island), more popularly known as Hole in the Rock. Named for its soaring 60-foot (18 m) arch, your skipper will expertly guide the vessel through the narrow space if conditions permit. Keep an eye out for bottlenose dolphins, whales, and other marine life during your cruise, and have your camera ready as you get up close to the action.

Day 12: Drive to Auckland, Sky Tower Dinner

Vineyard at Matakana
Relax at a vineyard in Matakana

Today, you'll head south again to Auckland. Stop off at Kawakawa, famous for its memorable public toilets designed by artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, before passing the port-side town of Whangarei. If you like, take a side trip to Matakana, renowned for its beaches and boutique vineyards, before driving through the North Shore and into the heart of Auckland City.

For the ultimate dinner with a view, reserve a table at the Sky Tower's Orbit, which rotates once every hour for panoramic views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf. The restaurant focuses on local and seasonal produce with meat and seafood dishes that highlight New Zealand's cuisine in a three-course set menu.

Day 13: Depart Auckland

Panoramic view of Auckland
View of Auckland
Depending on your flight, you may have some extra time to explore more of this vibrant metropolis. Wander through one or two of its museums and galleries, or shop in bustling Queen Street or Britomart. After you've parted with your rental car at the airport depot, it's time to catch your flight back home. Safe travels!

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Map of Best of New Zealand's North Island: Adventure, Culture & Relaxation - 13 Days
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