The goal of a good family vacation is for everyone to have a great time. That's sure to happen on this week-long, self-drive adventure through the North Island of New Zealand. Starting in Auckland and traveling down to Waitomo, Hobbiton, Rotorua, and Tauranga, kids of all ages will love the range of natural and cultural attractions on offer. Explore glowworm caves, go dolphin watching, learn about Maori culture, and much more.


  • Admire twinkling glowworms at the Waitomo Caves
  • Learn about the conservation of native birds in Rotorua
  • See where movie-making history was made at Hobbiton
  • Spot dolphins on marine tours in Tauranga or Auckland

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland Auckland
Day 2 Drive to Rotorua, Waitomo Caves Tour Rotorua
Day 3 Rainbow Springs & National Kiwi Hatchery Combo Rotorua
Day 4 Drive to Tauranga, Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park, Evening Kayaking Tauranga
Day 5 Hobbiton Movie Set Tour Tauranga
Day 6 Drive to Auckland, Whale & Dolphin Watching Auckland
Day 7 Depart Auckland  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

Welcome to Auckland!

Welcome to Auckland! Upon arrival at Auckland Airport, collect your rental car and spend the rest of the day exploring the city. There are many kid-friendly attractions in New Zealand's largest city, from parks and playgrounds (the large Domain is a good option) to museums (check out the Auckland War Memorial Museum).

There may be time to take a scenic ferry ride on the Hauraki Gulf to Waiheke Island. Enjoy views of the Auckland skyline and volcanic islands in the harbor along the way; kids will enjoy keeping their eyes peeled for dolphins. On Waiheke, grown-ups can sample local wine at a winery while the kids play on the grounds.

In the evening, families with older kids will enjoy dining at Orbit 360° Dining, a restaurant at the top of the Sky Tower. It 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 2: Drive to Rotorua, Waitomo Caves Tour

Kids will be amazed by the sparkling wonders of the Waitomo Caves

This morning, drive south from Auckland and through the farmland of the Waikato before arriving in the limestone hills of the Waitomo countryside, home to a huge underground network of caves. Choose an activity to suit your family: a gentle boat trip under a canopy of glowworms, the longest underground walking tour in Ruakuri Cave, or thrilling black-water rafting, an underground caving and rafting trip that adventurous kids and adults alike will love.

Continue on a tour of the Footwhistle Glowworm Cave, learning more about Waitomo's history and geology along the way. See glowworms and cave formations up close while appreciating the beauty of Footwhistle Cave (also known to local Māori as Te Anaroa Cave). The solar-powered lights are kept low so you can appreciate the magnificent glowworm displays just inches away. Around a corner lie the bones of one of New Zealand's lost treasures, the ancient moa bird.

Later, drive inland and pass through several small farming towns, such as Otorohanga and Putaruru, before geothermal features signal your arrival in Rotorua. In the evening, if the kids are up for it, attend Te Pā Tū (Tamaki Māori Village) for a three-course feast and celebration of dancing, music, and storytelling. It's a great chance to learn more about Māori culture. Dine on a hāngī, a traditional New Zealand Māori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven called an umu, which is used on special occasions.

Day 3: Rainbow Springs & National Kiwi Hatchery Combo

Rainbow Springs
See kiwis at Rainbow Springs
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Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Today is all about New Zealand's native flora and fauna. Wander the beautiful tree-lined Rainbow Springs park, taking in the flourishing bush, ferns, flowers, and plants. Kids will love coming face-to-face with (and learning more about) New Zealand's precious wildlife. See a spring-fed pool with rainbow, brown, and tiger trout, then visit the on-site aviaries, home to native species such as kea, kaka, tui, kereru, and kiwi. The tuatara lizard, known as New Zealand's living dinosaur, can also be seen here.

Next, you'll go behind the scenes with New Zealand's national animal at the purpose-built Kiwi Conservation Centre, created solely to try and stop the extinction of this unique species. Youngsters will gain first-hand insight into the conservation efforts being made to increase the number of kiwi eggs being hatched and subsequently returned to the wild.

In the evening, visit Redwoods Nightlights, an ecotourism walk in the middle of Rotorua's redwood forest. Planted in the early 1900s, some of the California redwoods in this area are up to 120 years old. Marvel at the trees' height and the magical glow from 30 lanterns dispersed across 28 suspension bridges hanging up to 65.6 feet (20 m) above the forest floor. Kids can't be carried, so all participants must be able to walk the full 2,296-foot-long (700 m) track unaided. However, several baby and toddler strollers are available to borrow.

Day 4: Drive to Tauranga, Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park, Evening Kayaking

Kids will love New Zealand's farm animals

In the morning, drive one hour from Rotorua to the coastal city of Tauranga, the largest city in the Bay of Plenty and one of the fastest-growing cities in New Zealand. Explore Mount Maunganui, a relaxed beach town popular with surfers, or hike up Mauao, a dormant volcano. In downtown Tauranga, take a stroll in The Stand, a modern waterfront area with space for the kids to run around.

Choose your next adventure depending on how active your kids are feeling and their ages. Tauranga Harbour is a great spot for swimming, dolphin-watching tours, kayaking, and fishing charters. Take a short trip outside the city to see McLaren Falls and Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park. McLaren Falls is known for its waterfall hike, where you can see glowworms after dusk.

Families with younger kids can check out Marshalls Animal Park within McLaren Falls Park. Well-planned walkways guide you to a close-up encounter with domestic and exotic animals. Children are able to feed and play with a host of farmyard animals, such as characterful emus, giant African ostriches, Texas longhorns, several breeds of sheep, deer, goats, birds, pigs, and various horses, from Clydesdales to cute miniatures. There are also flying foxes, a playground, and sometimes bottle-fed lambs, kids, and piglets. 

In the evening, families with older kids will enjoy a glowworm kayaking adventure. Board your kayak before the sun sets and paddle out to your canyon viewing spot. Then, wait for complete darkness, when thousands of glowworms will come out in full force.

Day 5: Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Hobbition Movie Set
Step into Middle-earth with a visit to the magical set of Hobbiton

Experience the real Middle-earth when you visit the Hobbiton Movie Set, the bucolic setting for The Shire that featured in Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Your tour starts with a drive through the picturesque 1,250-acre (505 ha) sheep farm, with spectacular views across the Kaimai Ranges.

Your guide will escort you on a two-hour tour through the 10-acre (4 ha) former film set, recounting fascinating details of how Hobbiton was created. See the Hobbit holes, Green Dragon Inn, mill, and other structures created for "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" films. Learn how this beautiful piece of Waikato farmland was transformed into The Shire. Whether or not your kids have seen the films (or read Tolkein's books), they'll love exploring the miniature world and learning more about how movies are made.

Day 6: Drive to Auckland, Whale & Dolphin Watching

Whale and dolphin watching with kids in the Hauraki Gulf

This morning, drive the scenic three-hour route from Tauranga to Auckland. Along the way, consider a stop at the Waiki Gold Discovery Centre for an interactive and intriguing visit through the award-winning Waihi Gold Experience. Visitors of all ages will enjoy this hands-on experience. Learn about the lives of the early miners and their families, and find out what drives the quest for gold and silver, now and in the past.

If you have time after your arrival in Auckland, make the most of your last full day of the trip on a 4.5-hour whale and dolphin-watching safari through the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park aboard a luxurious catamaran. You'll see landmarks like the Harbour Bridge and volcanic Rangitoto Island while keeping an eye out for orcas, dolphins, whales, sharks, manta rays, turtles, New Zealand fur seals, and up to 26 species of seabirds, including the little blue penguin. Kids will love looking out for animals they might have only seen in picture books!

Day 7: Depart Auckland

Explore the kid-friendly Auckland waterfront

Depending on your flight time, you may have some extra time to explore more of Auckland before you leave. Check out the Viaduct and waterfront area: kids will love the playground and the silos you can climb at the Wynyard Quarter, and street performers sometimes hang out around here. Fill hungry tummies at the Commercial Bay food court, which has so much selection that everyone will be satisfied.

If your flight isn't until much later in the day, you might also have time to visit the Maritime Museum. When the time comes, drop your rental car off at the airport depot before catching your flight back home. Safe travels!

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for a family trip to New Zealand? Check out these other New Zealand itineraries, explore different ways to spend a week in New Zealand with the family, or discover the best time to visit New Zealand.


Map of Family Fun on New Zealand's North Island: Wildlife, Culture & Hobbiton - 7 Days
Map of Family Fun on New Zealand's North Island: Wildlife, Culture & Hobbiton - 7 Days