Strike a good balance between cultural and natural highlights on this family-focused two-week tour of New Zealand's North Island. Starting in the biggest city, Auckland, you'll travel south through the Coromandel Peninsula and the geothermal heartland around Rotorua and Taupo before ending in the cool little capital of Wellington. Along the way, participate in a range of adventures that will appeal to everyone in the family: snorkeling, kayaking, bird watching, Maori cultural experiences, and much more.


  • Take a whale and dolphin watching cruise in Auckland
  • Dig your own private spa at Hot Water Beach
  • Explore Rotorua's geothermal highlights
  • Learn about fantasy movie-making at Wellington's Weta Workshop

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Free Day & Dinner Cruise Auckland
Day 2 Whale & Dolphin Eco-Safari Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Waitakere Ranges & Explore Waitakere Ranges
Day 4 Drive to Coromandel, Cathedral Cove Kayaking Coromandel
Day 5 Driving Creek Railway Tour, Hot Water Beach Coromandel
Day 6 Explore Coromandel Town, Hahei & Cathedral Cove Coromandel
Day 7 Drive to Rotorua, Te Puia Tour & Māori Arts Rotorua
Day 8 Forest Canopy Tour, Mitai Cultural Experience & Dinner Rotorua
Day 9 Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, Zorb Rides Rotorua
Day 10 Drive to Taupō, Lake Cruise to Māori Rock Carvings Taupō
Day 11 Forgotten World Rail Tour & Tongariro Evening Walk Taupō
Day 12 Drive to Wellington, Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary Wellington
Day 13 Cable Car & Carter Observatory, Wētā Cave Workshop Wellington
Day 14 Depart Wellington  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Free Day & Dinner Cruise

Welcome to Auckland

Welcome to Auckland! On arrival, you will be met by your private driver and transferred to your accommodation. You are free to spend the rest of the day however you like. Depending on your time of arrival, you may be able to hit the ground running by getting out and exploring the city—and giving your kids a chance to burn off energy after the flight.

Perched on the edge of a large natural harbor, Auckland offers the best of both worlds: sandy beaches, native bush, and lush rainforests give way to a vibrant urban culture humming with life. If you and your kids are tired from the flight, take a leisurely stroll through the Viaduct Harbour, where there are great playgrounds for kids, beautiful marina views, and the kid-friendly New Zealand Maritime Museum.

If the family has more energy, why not walk to the top of Auckland's highest volcano, Mount Eden? Take in soaring views of the Hauraki Gulf. Alternatively, head up the famous Sky Tower, standing at just over 1,000 feet (328 m), where you can walk on the glass observation floors and even bungee down the side! If you're not feeling the effects of jet lag in the evening, enjoy a memorable dining experience as you sail around Auckland's Waitematā Harbour. Watch the city twinkle after the sun dips below the horizon as you're treated to a drink, canapés, a main course, and a tasty dessert. 

Day 2: Whale & Dolphin Eco-Safari

Spot dolphins and whales on today's Hauraki Gulf excursion

This morning, board a boat for a wildlife-spotting cruise that both kids and adults will love. The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is home to whales, dolphins, and seabirds and is visited by a staggering one-third of all marine mammal species found on earth. Board the Dolphin Explorer for an unforgettable eco-safari in the Hauraki Gulf. Get an up-close look at whales, dolphins, and sea birds while learning about the important marine-biology research conducted onboard. Kids will love seeing a science lesson come to life.

In the afternoon, get back on the water when you take a scenic 40-minute cruise to Matiatia Wharf on Waiheke Island. Parents will love the wineries on the island, some of which have restaurants where you can eat, drink, and enjoy the views while the kids play on the grounds. Waiheke has lovely beaches, too, where the kids can swim and play.

Day 3: Drive to Waitakere Ranges & Explore

Admire the views over the Waitakere Ranges

Today you'll be transferred to the Waitakere Ranges, a 35-minute drive west of Auckland. On the other side of the range, you'll find West Auckland's black-sand beaches, beautiful and dramatic landscapes, magical waterfalls, streams, and an abundance of wildlife. The forest is a birdwatcher's paradise, with morepork, kingfisher, shining cuckoo, and tui among the native species found here.

There are many active or relaxed activities to enjoy here, depending on the age of your kids and your family's activity levels. Find out more about the region at the Arataki Visitor Centre and complete the 75-minute Arataki Nature Trail loop, which offers spectacular views of the Waitakere Ranges. Spend time on black-sand Piha Beach, considered one of Auckland's most beautiful beaches. If you're visiting in August or September, head to Muriwai Beach to see the cliff-top gannet colony, or take the easy walk from Piha to the scenic three-tier, 131-foot (40 m) Kitekite Falls.

Day 4: Drive to Coromandel, Cathedral Cove Kayaking

Spend time at the beautiful Cathedral Cove

Hop back in the car today and drive the three-hour, 112-mile (192 km) oceanside route through Auckland to the Firth of Thames, where the stunning Coromandel Peninsula begins. 

Head straight to Cathedral Cove, one of the North Island's most recognizable spots, for some sea kayaking. The Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve is a sea kayaking paradise full of beaches, islands, and rock gardens that are just waiting to be explored. Paddle through sea caves, interact with the local marine life and discover the thrill of kayak sailing with the wind on your back. To top it off, land at Cathedral Cove, where you'll be treated to cappuccinos and hot chocolates on the beach! No kayaking experience is necessary, and a qualified guide will accompany you, so (almost) anyone can participate.

Day 5: Driving Creek Railway Tour, Hot Water Beach

Head into the jungle by vintage train

Driving Creek Railway and Potteries has become a Coromandel icon. The one-hour return train trip on the innovative train takes you through replanted native kauri forest and includes two spirals, three short tunnels, five reversing points, and several large viaducts as it climbs up to the mountain-top terminus. Kids will especially love the ride, while parents can appreciate seeing where pottery is produced and can watch the artists at work, as well as purchase some souvenirs.

Later on, enjoy a spa afternoon that every member of the family can get into at Hot Water Beach. The beach gets its name from the geothermally heated water that seeps through the sand. At low tide, dig a hole and create your own mineral pool. The beach itself has golden, fine sand and is an ideal place to relax and play. Thanks to the hot water, the weather doesn't have to be hot and summery for this experience to be fun.

Day 6: Explore Coromandel Town, Hahei & Cathedral Cove

Cooks Bay and Cooks Beach, Coromandel

Coromandel town had a short-lived gold rush in the 1850s and another in the 1860s. The town still features many of the buildings from that era, which you can check out today. Kids who are into history will enjoy the Coromandel School of Mines & Historical Museum, which has photos and artifacts from the gold rush era. 

Later on, spend some time chilling out at a beach. Head back to Cathedral Cove, often ranked among the top 10 beaches in New Zealand and an especially popular destination with families in summer. Reach Cathedral Cove on a 30-minute cliff-top walk from Hahei. At the secluded beach, you'll find dramatic limestone caves and huge arches and opportunities to swim or snorkel offshore.

Alternatively, at Whitianga Wharf, step aboard a 28-foot (8.5 m) cruiser, which will take you to Cathedral Cove and its nearby islands. Older kids will love the snorkeling excursion in the marine reserve, where they can spot many species of fish. Younger kids and anyone else who wants to stay dry can enjoy the vibrant underwater scenery from an onboard TV. 

Day 7: Drive to Rotorua, Te Puia Tour & Māori Arts

See the geothermal wonders around Rotorua
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Make the three-hour (129 miles/ 208 km) journey down the coast and inland to Rotorua and get right into exploring Rotorua's famous geothermal attractions—just follow your nose! Kids will be equally disgusted and delighted by the rotten-egg smell that carries on the breeze, thanks to the natural sulfur gases that emerge from the ground. Te Puia Springs is one great place to see otherworldly green and orange sulfur pools, bubbling mud baths, and spurting geysers. It's also home to the Pohutu Geyser, which erupts up to 20 times a day, shooting a plume of scalding water up to 100 feet (30 m) into the sky.

Later, visit the Kiwi Conservation Centre, a refuge for native birds, including New Zealand's national emblem, the flightless kiwi. Continue to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, where you'll learn about carving and weaving techniques from the artists themselves. Rotorua is a heartland of Māori culture and an ideal place to explore this ancient culture.

If your family has the energy to stay up late, feel a little magic tonight by visiting 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 glow from 30 lanterns dispersed across 28 suspension bridges hanging up to 65.6 feet (20 m) above the forest floor.

Day 8: Forest Canopy Tour, Mitai Cultural Experience & Dinner

Explore the redwoods from above

Families with older kids (over six years) will love exploring Rotorua's native forest on today's three-hour canopy tour. Take in sweeping views of the dense forest and surrounding hills via an extensive network of trails, tree platforms, swing bridges, and zip lines. You'll be accompanied by a guide who'll share their passion and knowledge of the forest. 

In the late afternoon, head to the outskirts of town for a very special dinner and a show at Mitai Māori Village. This family-run cultural center offers an authentic experience featuring the Te Arawa people, a Māori iwi (tribe) who were the original inhabitants of the Rotorua Lakes region. This unforgettable experience includes outdoor excursions and performances followed by a traditional hāngī, or pit-cooked dinner. After dinner, embark on a guided bush walk, from which you can see twinkling glowworms.

Day 9: Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, Zorb Rides

Experience the thrill of zorbing in Rotorua

Experience more of the region's geothermal landscapes on a self-guided walk through Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Kids who enjoy playing "the floor is lava" will be amazed by this place. Explore this out-of-this-world landscape, which has been shaped by what lies below its surface—one of the most extensive geothermal systems in New Zealand, extending over 7 square miles (18 square km). At Wai-O-Tapu is the largest mud pool in New Zealand that was originally the site of a large mud volcano, which was ultimately destroyed through erosion in the 1920s.

Get ready for some serious family fun later on when you visit the incredible ZORB adventure park. Don't know what zorbing is? Essentially, you enter a giant inflatable ball (with or without water inside) and bounce and roll down hilly tracks. Kids over five can ride solo, otherwise they can squeeze in with a parent. There are several tracks to tumble down, from the straight and relatively tame to routes that will make you feel like a pinball in a machine!

Day 10: Drive to Taupō, Lake Cruise to Māori Rock Carvings

Be amazed by the rush of water at Huka Falls

Today you'll drive through the heart of the Central North Island volcanic plateau. On your way to Taupō, visit the thermal Waimangu Volcanic Valley for more otherworldly landscapes that kids and adults will both appreciate. Taupō sits on New Zealand's largest lake, Lake Taupō, a volcanic caldera formed following a massive eruption 25,600 years ago.

Just north of town are the Huka Falls; a short detour to see them is highly recommended. Get up close to the spray on a thrilling jet boat ride, or see the boiling pools and steaming vents of nearby Craters of the Moon geothermal reserve. Taupō itself is a lively place that offers a range of activities to suit everyone in the family. Try bungee jumping, sky diving, trout fishing, kayaking, sailing, horseback riding, and hiking, among other activities.

Lake Taupō is also home to some spectacular Māori rock carvings, the Mine Bay Māori Rock Carvings. Created by Matahi Brightwell, a traditional Māori carver, these exquisite carvings were completed in 1980. The largest depicts Ngātoro-i-rangi, a celebrated Māori hero and tohunga (spiritual leader). See the carvings up close on a 90-minute cruise around Taupō's scenic bays. Kids can enjoy relaxing on the boat after all their active adventures. 

Day 11: Forgotten World Rail Tour & Tongariro Evening Walk

Watch the sunset over the Tongariro National Park

Make an early start today to drive 90 minutes to Taumarunui, a town in Waikato's King Country region. In Taumarunui, set off along the Forgotten World Railway. Kids love riding on trains, and this journey will certainly delight them as you'll travel through 10 tunnels, the longest of which is 0.9 miles (1.5 km) long. You'll also travel through stunning hill-country farms and native bush. Tuck into a lovely plowman's lunch and fabulous home baking in Tokirima, from where you'll catch your ride back to Taupō.

On the way, stop at Lauren's Lavender Farm beside the Whanganui River. Breathe in the relaxing scent of lavender while strolling through the fields and shop in the gift store—you might even like to buy some soothing lavender essential oil products, which can help kids sleep.

If your kids are older and don't need to go to bed early, finish off this day with a two-hour sunset guided walk in the Tongariro National Park, one of New Zealand's three UNESCO-listed World Heritage sites. Your guide will choose a hiking trail to suit your family's abilities. Stop at a lookout point to watch the sun go down over the national park's volcanic peaks and plateaus, accompanied by a glass of bubbly (and a kid-appropriate alternative!)

Day 12: Drive to Wellington, Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary

Get up close to New Zealand's national bird called the kiwi
Get up close to New Zealand's national bird called the kiwi

Travel south to the bottom of the North Island today, to New Zealand's capital city of Wellington. Plan to spend the whole day making this trip, as there's a lot to see and do on the way. Drive up onto the central plateau and into the high-country Rangipo Desert that skirts Tongariro National Park, then continue through the rural towns of Taihape, Mangaweka, and Bulls before arriving on the Kapiti Coast. The coastal towns of Paraparaumu, Paekakariki, and Plimmerton are worth a short detour to check out the beaches and sample the local chocolate and ice cream, which is famous in New Zealand—kids will love it. 

Settle into your accommodation after arriving in Wellington. New Zealand's capital sits on a deep natural harbor and is surrounded by bush-clad hills. The city center itself is quite compact, so exploring on foot is relatively easy. You can easily stroll to the cafés and restaurants around Courtenay Place. If you arrive early enough in the day, New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa, is also close by.

In the evening, head to the 500-acre (225 ha) Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary for a very special night tour. Surrounded by a predator-exclusion fence, the sanctuary protects animals like kiwi, tuatara, and tiny Maud Island frogs. The best time to visit on a guided tour is at night. Led by a guide and a flashlight, you can come face-to-face with one (or more!) of the many nocturnal species that live in Zealandia.

Day 13: Cable Car & Carter Observatory, Wētā Cave Workshop

Ride the Wellington Cable Car

Explore the sights of Wellington today. Ride on New Zealand's only remaining funicular railway, the Wellington Cable Car. Tell your kids to keep an eye out for the artistic LED installation in the tunnel. After a 5-minute ride, reach the Kelburn Lookout and the Cable Car Museum, which houses much of the original machinery. Nearby is the Space Place at Carter Observatory, which is sure to appeal to kids who are into space. Check out the multimedia exhibitions, astronomical artifacts, and digital planetarium. Return to town via a walk downhill through the beautiful Wellington Botanic Gardens.

In the afternoon, enter the magical cinematic world of the Wētā Workshop. Visit the workshop's museum and see the characters, props, and sets from films such as "The Hobbit," "The Lord of the Rings," "Furious 7," "The Legend of Zorro," and "Master and Commander." Watch artists at work on costumes and sets and see how fantasy comes to life. Marvel at the bigatures and miniatures for which the workshop is famous.

Day 14: Depart Wellington

Don't miss the LOTR sculptures at Wellington Airport

Depending on your time of departure, there may be time this morning to fit in some last-minute activities in Wellington before heading to the airport. Stroll through the Cuba Street Mall, browsing the shops and cafés, and let your kids play at the popular Bucket Fountain and playground. Head to the airport in time to return your rental car and catch your flight. Safe travels!

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

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Map of Family Nature & Culture Trip in the North Island: Auckland to Wellington - 14 Days
Map of Family Nature & Culture Trip in the North Island: Auckland to Wellington - 14 Days