Experience New Zealand's eclectic mix of city and country, fantasy and reality on this 11-day journey across the North Island. Travel from the bustling harbors of Auckland to the steaming geysers of Rotorua, ride cable cars up Wellington's hills, and kayak across Lake McLaren. Along the way, catch glimpses of sites made famous by the "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, like Hobbiton, the Putangirua Pinnacles, and Weta Cave.


  • Kayak past thousands of glowworms in Mangapapa Canyon
  • Tour the picturesque Hobbiton set from "The Lord of the Rings"
  • Hike the most famous one-day route in the country
  • Take a LOTR-themed tour around Wellington

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Explore Auckland
Day 2 Transfer to Tauranga, Glowworm Kayak Tour Tauranga
Day 3 Transfer to Rotorua, Hobbiton Movie Set Tour Rotorua
Day 4 Visit the Geothermal Wonders of Wai-O-Tapu Rotorua
Day 5 Transfer to Ohakune via Tongariro National Park Ohakune
Day 6 Transfer to Martinborough & Wine Country Martinborough
Days 7-9 Transfer to Wellington, LOTR Tours, Cable Cars & Museums Wellington
Day 10 Transfer to Auckland, Free Day in the City Auckland
Day 11 Depart Auckland  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland & Explore

Panoramic view of Auckland
Panoramic view of Auckland

Welcome to Auckland! After your flight to New Zealand's North Island, you'll have the rest of the day to yourself to spend how you'd like. Take time to relax at your hotel or head out into the most populous city in the country. There is much to do and see in the "Big Little City."

For instance, get a bird's eye view of the whole city from the top of the 1,076-foot (328-m) Sky Tower. Now that you know the lay of the land consider visiting Britomart for a bite to eat at one of its many bars and restaurants, or check out Wynyard Quarter, a newly built neighborhood along the waterfront created in time for the Rugby World Cup in 2011. If you have the time to go farther afield, take the 35-minute ferry ride to visit Waiheke Island, home to vineyards, beaches, and beautiful views of Auckland.

Day 2: Transfer to Tauranga, Glowworm Kayak Tour

Views over the Bay of Plenty from Tauranga

Today, head south from Auckland to Tauranga, a harborside city in the Bay of Plenty region. The city has attractions to delight any type of traveler. Take the bridge across the water to Mount Maunganui, a chill beach town perfect for surfing, or take a hike to the dormant volcano Mauao or scenic McLaren Falls. If history's your thing, consider visiting the 17th-century Elms Mission Station. If shopping is more your speed, The Stand along the waterfront is packed with cafés, restaurants, and nightclubs.

At twilight, board a kayak at the head of Lake McLaren for a ride through Mangapapa Canyon. Here, the sides of the narrow canyon nearly touch, creating the perfect sheltered environment for one of New Zealand's most unique residents—glowworms. While they live in many parts of the country, this is one of, if not the only, place where you can kayak among thousands of glowworms.
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Day 3: Transfer to Rotorua, Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Hobbit houses in the hillsides of the Shire

You'll spend the next two nights of your trip in Rotorua, a city known for its geothermal activity. During your free time today, consider exploring the Buried Village, an excavated town that was once covered in the wake of the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera, or the thermal pools and geysers at Hell's Gates. Outside of geothermal attractions, Rotorua is home to the Rainbow Springs Animal Park, dedicated to protecting kiwi birds, and the Redwood Forest, an ideal place to mountain bike.

Later on, take a guided two-hour tour of the intact, 12-acre (4.8 ha) Hobbiton Movie Set. Your guide will show you around the site of the Shire, made famous in "The Lord of the Rings," including the Hobbit Holes, the Mill, and the Green Dragon Inn, where you can try a drink from the Southfarthing range of beer, cider, and gingerbeer surrounded by the sights and sounds of Middle-earth.

Day 4: Visit the Geothermal Wonders of Wai-O-Tapu

The Champagne Pool at Wai-O-Tapu

No trip to Rotorua would be complete without a visit to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, a traveler-friendly way to experience one of the largest, most colorful geothermal systems in New Zealand. Walk along the trails and observe fascinating volcanic formations, like sulfur ponds, mud pools, and geysers. Here, timing is everything—get to the reserve by 10:15 to see Lady Knox Geyser erupt to heights as tall as 33 to 66 feet (10 to 20 m).

Day 5: Transfer to Okahune via Tongariro National Park 

Emerald Lakes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Emerald lakes on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Today's adventure takes you into the wilds of Tongariro National Park, the oldest national park in New Zealand. A dual UNESCO World Heritage Site for culture and nature, the is the place to hike on the North Island. The park features three volcanoes—Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe—and a number of Māori religious sites.

While you could take a quick hike here, the most famous one-day hike, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, may be well worth the six-to-eight-hour trip. You'll pass hot springs, turquoise lakes, and stunning views of the park below. When you've had your fill of hiking, continue to the small town of Okahuneon on the fringes of the park for the night.

Day 6: Transfer to Martinborough & Wine Country

The towering Putangirua Pinnacles 
Today, visit quaint Martinborough, a village of fewer than 2,000 people surrounded by no less than 35 vineyards, like Palliser Estate, Tirohana, and Ata Rangi. As you may imagine, a wine tour is a popular activity among the kiwis who own country houses here. You could spend the day tasting and touring your way through local vineyards or travel an hour from the village to Cape Palliser to take in the views from the southernmost lighthouse on the island. For a more adventurous afternoon, head to the Putangirua Pinnacles for a walk through a landscape that served as a backdrop in "The Lord of the Rings."

Days 7-9: Transfer to Wellington, LOTR Tours, Cable Cars & Museums

Views over downtown Wellington and its famous cable car

You'll spend the next two days in New Zealand's vibrant capital city of Wellington. First up is a Lord of the Rings-inspired half-day tour of the city and surrounding area. A guide will lead you to Mount Victoria Lookout for gorgeous views of the whole city before taking you down to the pine forest where several scenes from "The Fellowship of the Ring" were shot. Later, head to Miramar, the suburban hub of Wellington's film industry, for a visit to the Weta Cave, home to iconic memorabilia from the production of the films.

There's no shortage of things to do in the capital city even after this comprehensive tour. Explore via the City to Sea Walkway that cuts across the city streets to the coast or the Wellington Cable Car, the funicular that connects the city center with Kelburn, a suburb in the hills. Along the way, stop by The Beehive, the executive wing of the country's parliament buildings, the lovely Botanic Gardens, or the world-class Te Papa National Museum.

Day 10: Transfer to Auckland, Free Day in the City

The best view in Auckland from Mount Eden
Fly from Wellington back to Auckland for a final full day in New Zealand. While you're back in town, consider visiting Mount Eden, the highest point in the city, for a chance to see the Pacific Ocean, the Tasman Sea, and Auckland's various volcanic cones. Go a bit more out of your way to see Devonport, a coastal village nearby featuring art galleries and scenic viewpoints. Or, go out with a bang and fly in a seaplane to Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf to visit the award-winning Man O' War winery.

Day 11: Depart Auckland

View of Auckland from the harbor on a sunny day with sail boats in the water
A harbor view of Auckland

After an unforgettable trip across the North Island, it's time to say goodbye to New Zealand and take your international flight to your next destination. Safe travels!

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Map of Explore New Zealand's North Island: Auckland to Wellington - 11 Days
Map of Explore New Zealand's North Island: Auckland to Wellington - 11 Days