This 11-day adventure explores New Zealand's North Island, as well as one of the most popular regions of the upper South Island. Start in Auckland, and take a short scenic flight to Great Barrier Island, where you can hike, bathe in natural hot pools, or relax on the beach. Continue to Rotorua, with its geothermal waters and the Tongariro volcanoes, before making your way to Wellington. From there, you'll finish with Golden Bay, Abel Tasman National Park, and Nelson—the sunniest town in New Zealand.

Highlights

  • Relax on a deserted beach on Great Barrier Island
  • Soak in a geothermal bath in Rotorua
  • Enjoy views of the volcanoes of the Tongariro National Park
  • Understand why Wellington is the "coolest little capital in the world"
  • Hike in beautiful Golden Bay and Abel Tasman National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland Auckland
Day 2 Exploring Auckland Auckland
Days 3-4 Fly to Great Barrier Island Great Barrier Island
Days 5-6 Fly to Rotorua Rotorua
Day 7 Adventure in Taupō Taupo
Day 8 Tongariro National Park Tongariro National Park
Day 9 Explore the Capital of Cool, Wellington Wellington
Day 10 Golden Bay and Abel Tasman National Park on Foot and by Boat Nelson
Day 11 Depart from Nelson  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

Auckland
Auckland, City of Sails

Welcome to Auckland! You'll be met at your hotel to go over your itinerary. After your meeting, the rest of the day is yours at leisure.

Depending on what time you arrive and how tired you are after your journey, a great place to head to get a first taste of Auckland is the Viaduct Basin. Right by the water in the Central Business District (CBD), you'll understand why Auckland is nicknamed the 'City of Sails' when strolling around here. Some of the smartest restaurants and bars in the city are concentrated in this area, and you can get a feel for Auckland's lively atmosphere. 

Day 2: Explore Auckland

Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island

There is much to do and see in the Big Little City. Depending on your energy levels and interests, here are a few suggestions of things you can do on your first full day in the city:

  • Waiheke Island: The scenic 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland has a great view back towards the city as you pass other islands in the Hauraki Gulf. The island can be explored on a day trip from Auckland, and we recommend you rent a car once you get there to fully enjoy the beaches and vineyards.
  • Seaplane flight and wine tasting at Man O' War Vineyard. With its magical beaches and stunning weather, Waiheke is a favorite destination for an unforgettable getaway. Hop aboard an amazing flight over the beautiful islands of the Hauraki Gulf. Land on the tranquil waters of Man O’ War Bay. Relax and unwind while enjoying a range of award-winning wines, accompanied by a lunch platter. 
  • Wynyard Quarter: This is a new area of town that is fast becoming a hit with Aucklanders. There's a Fish Market, open every day, so why not try the huge mussels or the famous oysters? Auckland once had a tram system, and one of them has been restored and you can go for a ride.
  • Britomart: This is the name of the railway station, but also of the new area located right behind it with plenty of bars, restaurants, designer shops, and a little local market on Saturdays.
  • Mt Eden: The highest natural point in the city at 643 feet (196 meters). From the top you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, plus all the volcanic cones that make up Auckland.
  • Sky Tower: At 1076 feet (328 metres), the Sky Tower is the tallest construction in New Zealand, and offers breathtaking views for up to 50 miles (80 kilometers) in every direction. Travel up in the glass-fronted lifts to one of the three spectacular viewing platforms, or for more thrills and excitement, SkyWalk around the outside of the pergola or do the SkyJump off the tower.
  • Devonport: The historic seaside village of Devonport has a relaxed atmosphere. Stroll around and visit some of its attractions, including the many art galleries, historic points of interest, and lookouts. It's a short ferry ride from Auckland CBD, or a short drive over the Auckland Harbour Bridge

Days 3-4: Fly to Great Barrier Island

Medlands Beach
Medlands Beach, Great Barrier Island

In the north-east end of the Hauraki Gulf, Great Barrier Island is just a 30-minute flight from Auckland. But, the island has a totally different feel to Auckland. With a population of just 1000, the island is a microcosm of the best of North Island scenery: white-sand beaches, tidal bays, canyons and rocky hills covered with native bush. Through numerous walking tracks you can explore this untouched corner of New Zealand.

Due due to the remote location of the island, food and basic products are more expensive on Great Barrier Island. If possible, bring a few essentials with you. There are decent convenience stores in Claris and Tryphena, and a local pub serving great food at a reasonable price (Currach Irish Pub). Petrol is slightly more expensive too.

Highlights of Great Barrier Island:

  • Tryphena is a harbor on the south-west end of the island. Surrounded by hills and sheltered from the wind, it’s the most populated area of the island. You'll find a few walks, a swimming beach, and an amazing local atmosphere if you hang out at the pub.
  • Kaitoke Hot Springs is one of the major attractions of the island. Allow a 30-minute drive from Tryphena and 15 minutes from Claris Airport. You’ll reach the hot springs after a 45-minute walk through the Kaitoke wetlands and regenerating bush with nikau and kanuka trees. There is not much infrastructure, but a natural pool allows you to lay down and relax in the hot water.
  • Medlands Beach is the most famous beach on Great Barrier Island, a long strip of white sand ideal for swimming and surfing, in a beautiful setting. Beware of the strong currents.
  • Windy Canyon has spectacular ancient rock formations covered with native bush. You can explore this area by following a walking track. The path will lead you to the highest point of the island, Mt. Hobson, from which the expansive views are exceptional. Allow five to six hours return to reach the top of Mt. Hobson. The walk requires a good level of fitness, but it’s highly rewarding. You will spot a few native kauri trees on the way to the top.

Days 5-6: Fly to Rotorua

Wai-O-Tapu
Wai-O-Tapu

Rotorua is New Zealand's famous geothermal city. Brace yourself, it’s going to smell like sulfur—but there are many sights and activities to enjoy here:

  • Buried Village. The excavated village offers a first-hand insight into the chaos and mayhem that transpired on the night Mount Tarawera erupted in June 1886. Molten rock, ash and mud from the volcano killed more than 150 people, engulfed several settlements and destroyed the famous pink and white terraces at Lake Rotomahana, which were regarded as the eighth wonder of the world.
  • Mountain bike tour of the Redwoods Forest: A great introduction to mountain biking in the Redwoods Forest. Choose from over 87 miles (140 km) of purpose-built tracks tailored to all skill levels, for a three-to-four hour ride through forestry back roads, single track, and fun jump trails surrounded by beautiful native tree and pine forests.
  • Wai-O-Tapu: Sculptured out of volcanic activity and thousands of years in the making, Wai-O-Tapu is considered New Zealand’s most colorful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attraction. Clearly defined tracks taking from 30 to 75 minutes to explore provide the visitor with the opportunity to enjoy the diversity of this area.
  • Waimangu Volcanic Valley: Take an ecology-focused walk through the craters of the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. As you walk through one of the youngest eco-systems in the world you will see a range of geothermal activity, native plants and bird life. At any stage of your walk you can take a courtesy shuttle bus, which regularly circles the valley, back to the Waimangu Visitor Centre.
  • Hell's Gate Geothermal Park: New Zealand is located in the Pacific 'Ring of Fire', where tectonic plates are always moving. Nowhere is this more evident than in Rotorua, with its erupting geysers, steaming fumaroles (vents), mud pools, and hot geothermal springs. Hell's Gate Geothermal Park is set in 50 acres of land, with a large variety of thermal features. Walk past steaming fumaroles and mud pools violently boiling away.
  • Rainbow Springs Animal Park: This park is at the forefront of the effort to save New Zealand's national symbol from extinction. They are working hard to raise and release kiwi birds back into the wild. Kiwi Encounter, at Rainbow Springs, is a working nursery and hatchery where kiwi are raised as part of Operation Nest Egg. Eggs are brought from the wild for protection, and when the kiwis are large enough to protect themselves from predators, they are released back into the wild.
  • Skyline Gondola and Luge: Ride the gondola high above Rotorua for stunning panoramic views over the lake and nearby towns. The downhill Skyline Luge is a fun-packed, gravity-fueled ride suitable for all ages and abilities.
  • Polynesian Spa: New Zealand’s leading international day spa, Polynesian Spa provides a unique thermal spa experience on the shore of Lake Rotorua. It's recognised as one of the best spas in the world.

Day 7: Adventure in Taupō

Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo

Taupō is the North Island’s capital of outdoor activities: bungy jumping, jet boating, helicopter flights, skydiving—you name it, it’s possible here.

Highlights include:

  • Huka Falls: One of New Zealand's most popular natural attractions can be visited by car, on foot, by bike, jet-boat or helicopter.
  • Volcanic Activity Centre: Explore the mysteries of the Taupō Volcanic Zone with a visit to the Volcanic Activity Centre, just north of Taupō. Learn the secrets of New Zealand's volcanoes and geothermal areas by experiencing the interactive and educational displays and videos.
  • Huka Prawn Park: Shawn the Prawn will lead you on an exciting adventure through the world of prawns. Hand feed baby prawns, fish for them, and feast on fresh ones.
  • Waikare Terraces: Step back in time at this geothermal wonderland and traditional Maori village. Amid the terraces, mud pools, geysers and sacred healing spa, learn about Maori stories and legends.
  • Craters of the Moon: This area of thermal activity has boiling mud pools and steam vents.
  • Lake Cruise. Sail for two hours on Lake Taupō, which is the size of Singapore! The cruise includes a visit to the Maori rock drawings. If the weather is good, you’ll see as far as the mountains of the Tongariro National Park.
  • Skydiving or bungy jumping: Taupō is a good place to try these fantastic adventure activities, with spectacular views.
  • Beaches: Enjoy a relaxing break on one of the numerous beaches surrounding the lake. The water can be a bit cold though, even in summer. We recommend Acacia Bay, just a couple of miles from town.
  • Taupo DeBretts Hot Springs and Spa: Bathe away every care in the world at this natural hot springs resort, with indoor and outdoor hot pools, therapeutic massages, skin care and beauty treatments.

Day 8: Tongariro National Park

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

Tongariro National Park is the oldest national park in New Zealand, and the fourth in the world. Now, it's recognized by UNESCO as a duel heritage site, significant for both its cultural and natural significance. Its three sleeping volcanoes — Ruapehu (9176 feet/ 2797 m.), Tongariro (6453 feet/ 1967 m.), and Ngauruhoe (7503 feet/ 2287 m.) — make this park very unique.

The most famous one-day hike in the country, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, takes you across the volcanic plateau. But, this six-to-eight-hour hike isn't the only option in the area. There are many shorter walks, too, if you prefer. Plan your walk or day hike according to the weather forecast. Here are some suggestions:

  • Taranaki Falls Walking Track: 2-hour loop track, 3.5 miles (6 km.). Begins 328 feet (100 m.) below Whakapapa Visitor Centre at Ngauruhoe Place. The track to Taranaki Falls has excellent mountain views and crosses a range of land forms. The upper and lower tracks form a loop, with the 65 foot (20 m.) falls at around the halfway point.
  • Whakapapanui Walk: 2 hours return, 3.5 miles (6 km.). Begins 328 feet (100 m.) from the visitor center. A forest walk along the Whakapapanui River.
  • Soda Springs: 2 hours return, 3 miles (5 km.). Begins at Mangatepopo Road. This is a spring originating in a lava flow.
  • Tama Lakes: 5-6 hours return, 10.5 miles (17 km.). Begins 656 feet (200 m.) from the visitor center at Ngauruhoe Place. This is an extension of the Taranaki Falls walk. There is a pathway between Upper Tama Lakes and Lower Tama Lakes. The highest point is ideal for a lunch break. You come back the same way but are surrounded by volcanoes.
  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing: 6-8 hours, 12 miles (19 km.), with a 2460 foot (750 m.) altitude gain. This is the most famous one; bring water, food and the right gear, and be prepared for dramatic changes in the weather. You’ll cross stunning landscapes and see stunning turquoise lakes.

Day 9: Explore the Capital of Cool, Wellington

Cable Car
Cable Car

Wellington is "the coolest little capital" in the world, according to Lonely Planet. And you'll soon find out why. Set on the edge of a stunning harbor and surrounded by rolling hills, it is a city just waiting to be explored. Wellington is also has a huge number of cafes and bars, just beckoning.

Highlights include:

  • Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa: New Zealand's bold and innovative national museum is a world leader in interactive and visitor-focused museum experiences. New Zealand's geology and natural environment, and the stories of the New Zealand indigenous people, are celebrated in Te Papa's permanent exhibitions, while Te Papa's Maori marae is a vibrant contemporary meeting house and a living communal center, unique for a museum.
  • The Beehive, Parliament House and Parliamentary Library: The Beehive is the executive wing of Parliament House, built in the 1970s. Parliament House itself was finished in the 1920s, and is where New Zealand’s parliament meets. The parliamentary library (1899) is also worth a look.
  • City to Sea Walkway: A rich and varied walk from one end of Wellington city, into the surrounding suburbs and hills, and then to the rocky shores of Wellington's south coast. It offers wonderful views of the Cook Strait and Kaikoura Ranges. The walk takes approximately four hours. Walkway brochures can be picked up from the Wellington I-Site Visitor Centre.
  • Mt. Victoria Lookout: Get a panoramic view of the city from the top of Mt. Victoria.
  • Cable Car: This is one of Wellington's most popular tourist attractions. The cars run from Lambton Quay in the commercial heart of the city, tunnel under the corporate towers of the Terrace, and emerge in Kelburn.
  • Botanic Gardens: A good place for a nice walk or a picnic lunch. You can get there on the cable car.

Day 10: Golden Bay and Abel Tasman National Park on Foot and by Boat

Anchorage Bay in Abel Tasman Park
Anchorage Bay in Abel Tasman Park

Start the day with a stunning scenic flight from Wellington to Golden Bay, over to the pristine beaches of the Abel Tasman National Park. Enjoy an easy 30-minute return walk to the Te Waikoropupu Springs, the clearest fresh water in the world.

After a 50-minute scenic shuttle tour from Takaka, arrive at Totaranui Beach, where you learn about the history and environment of Golden Bay. Spend two hours exploring the beach at either Totaranui in winter, or Awaroa in summer. Last but not least, end the day will end with a stunning 90-minute cruise down the length of the Abel Tasman National Park coastline, all the way to Kaiteriteri, where you may be able to spot dolphins and seals. Then, be transferred to Nelson city by shuttle.

Day 11: Depart from Nelson

Nelson
Nelson

Transfer to Nelson Airport in good time to check in for your onward flight. Nelson connects to Wellington, Auckland, and Christchurch, from where you can catch an international flight, or catch a domestic flight to other parts of New Zealand.