On this active, five-day tour, experience two different cities in New Zealand. Begin in Auckland, and stroll the trendy neighborhoods, followed by a day outdoors, including a dolphin and whale watching excursion. Then, travel to Rotorua, a geothermal destination. Explore the cultural and historical sites, dip into the hot springs, bike through the Redwoods Forest, and visit the famous Polynesian Spa. 

Highlights

  • Shop and dine in Ponsonby, Parnell, and Newmarket in Auckland
  • Go whale and dolphin watching at Viaduct Harbour
  • Bike through the scenic Redwoods Forest
  • Tour the geothermal landmarks of Rotorua

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Auckland and Self-Guided Tour Auckland
Day 2 Auckland - City Exploration and Whale & Dolphin Watching Tour Auckland
Day 3 Travel to Rotorua and Wai-O-Tapu Tour Rotorua
Day 4 Rotorua - Redwoods Forest Mountain Bike Tour Rotorua
Day 5 Polynesian Spa and Travel Back to Auckland Auckland

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Auckland and self-guided tour

Welcome to Auckland!
Welcome to Auckland!

Welcome to New Zealand! There is much to do and see in Auckland, also known as the Big Little City. Check in to your hotel, and then begin your tour of the town:

  • Stroll Ponsonby, which is the city’s trendiest street; enjoy a good lunch and some high-end shopping
  • Visit Parnell, New Zealand's oldest suburb famous for its galleries, cafés, restaurants, and boutique-style stores; there is also a charming French market on weekends
  • Go to Newmarket, which is ideal for classic, everyday shopping
  • Make a trip to Wynyard Quarter, a newer area with a daily fish market—try the huge mussels, or the famous oysters—then, check out one of the restored tramways, and go for a ride
  • Visit the new area known as Britomart (which is also the name of the railway station) with bars, restaurants, designer shops, and a little local market open on Saturdays
  • Explore Mission Bay, which is a busy beach in the summertime, and also a residential area with great views 

Day 2: Auckland - City exploration and whale & dolphin watching tour

Viaduct Harbour
Viaduct Harbour

Today, embark on a 4.5-hour whale and dolphin watching excursion to Viaduct Harbour. Dolphins are spotted on more than 90 percent of trips, while whales are seen approximately 75 percent of the time. Make sure to bring your own snack, or you can take advantage of the bar with refreshments for purchase.

Following the tour, continue exploring more of Auckland. First, go to Mt. Eden, the highest point of the city at 645 feet, where you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea and all of the volcanic cones that make up Auckland. Then, stroll Albert Park, which is right in the middle of the city and perfect for a lunch break—the Modern Art Museum is next to it, likely with free exhibits to peruse.

Additionally, make sure to visit the Auckland National Museum. The museum tells the story of New Zealand, its place in the Pacific, and its people. The museum is a war memorial for the province of Auckland and holds one of New Zealand’s top three heritage libraries. It has pre-eminent Maori and Pacific collections, significant natural history resources and major social and military history collections, as well as decorative arts and pictorial collections.

The Sky Tower is a truly captivating experience, as well. At 1,076 feet high, it is the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand and offers breathtaking views for up to 50 miles in every direction. Travel up in the glass-fronted lifts to one of the three, spectacular viewing platforms. For more thrills and excitement, SkyWalk around the outside of the pergola, which is 630 feet up, or do the SkyJump off the tower.

Following the active day, enjoy the evening at your leisure.

Day 3: Travel to Rotorua and Wai-O-Tapu tour

Wai-O-Tapu
Wai-O-Tapu

Today, drive south on SH1 to Hamilton and follow the signs to Rotorua, the geothermal city. Brace yourself—it’s going to smell like sulfur.

Sculptured out of the volcanic activity and thousands of years in the making, Wai-O-Tapu is considered to be New Zealand’s most colorful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attraction. You are introduced to a uniquely different natural landscape–one of the most extensive geothermal systems in the country. Following this scheduled activity, consider the below guide when crafting the rest of your day’s itinerary.

Visit the Buried Village. The excavated village offers first-hand insight into the chaos and mayhem that transpired on the night Mount Tarawera erupted. It provides an authentic representation of the people of Te Wairoa, both Maori and European, how they lived, and how they died.

Ride the Skyline Gondola high above Rotorua for stunning panoramic views over the lake and nearby towns. For a thrill, the Skyline Luge is a fun-packed, gravity-fueled ride suitable for all ages and abilities.

If you are interested in some pampering, the Polynesian Spa is New Zealand’s leading international day spa, providing a unique thermal spa experience on the shore of Lake Rotorua. It is recognized as one of the world’s top spas.

New Zealand is a country located on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where the tectonic plates are always moving. Nowhere is this more evident than in Rotorua on New Zealand's volcanic plateau, where geothermal activity is very noticeable, including erupting geysers, steaming fumaroles (vents), mud pools, and hot, geothermal springs. Hells Gate Geothermal Park is set on 50 acres of land with a large variety of thermal features. Walk past steaming fumaroles and mud pools violently boiling away. Follow the footsteps of ancient Maori Warriors through the swirling clouds of steam, past the hot pool where the Maori Princess Hurutini lost her life; see the violent geothermal activity of the Inferno and the Kakahi Falls, the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. Here, warriors would bathe in the sulfuric waters to heal their wounds after battle and remove the tapu (sacredness) of war. Hells Gate Tikitere is a unique place of extreme contrasts. You will see remarkable formations and colors, cascading hot water, unearthly vistas, and even examples of “land coral.”

A visit to Rainbow Springs Nature Park includes an informative Kiwi Encounter, an effort to save the bird, which is the national symbol, from extinction. The facility members work hard to raise and release kiwi back into the wild. Consequently, kiwis are an important part of the Rainbow Springs experience. The Kiwi Encounter is a working nursery and hatchery where kiwi are raised as part of Operation Nest Egg. Eggs are brought from the wild, and when they have hatched, and the kiwis are large enough to protect themselves from predators, they are released back into the wild.

The Agrodome offers visitors an experience like no other—seeing through the eyes of a true New Zealand farmer. This is an exciting and informative insight into the world of New Zealand agriculture, featuring 19 sheep breeds, sheep shearing, cow milking, lamb feeding, and dog demonstrations.

An evening at the Mitai Maori Cultural Experience will give you an awe-inspiring, authentic introduction to Maori culture. The natural bush setting is enthralling; see warriors in traditional dress paddle an ancient warrior canoe (waka) down the Wai-o-whiro stream, and don’t miss your only opportunity to see glow worms in their natural habitat, as well as protected kiwis.

Famous for beautiful, crystal-clear, freshwater, springs emanate from the ground and flow downstream into Lake Rotorua at Hamurana Springs. It is the deepest natural spring in the North Island. Take a scenic walk alongside the crisp waters of the stream and through a grove of redwood trees with many different bird varieties. When you reach the spring, note that people throw coins into the water to see how far down they go.

Following a day of exploration in Rotorua, enjoy the night on your own.

Day 4: Rotorua - Redwoods Forest mountain bike tour

Redwoods Forest
Redwoods Forest

Today, enjoy a great introduction to mountain biking in the Redwoods Forest. Begin the adventure by fitting bikes and helmets to suit, and undergo a short safety and bike instruction briefing. Choose from more than 87 miles of purpose-built tracks tailored to all skill levels for a 3-4-hour ride through forest back roads, single tracks, and fun jump trails surrounded by beautiful native and pine forests.

Then, continue exploring more landmarks and destinations within Rotorua:

  • Whakarewa Forest: This beautiful, 712-acre forest can be explored on foot or by bike—it is a favorite with downhill mountain bikers
  • Blue Lake and Green Lake: Just 15 minutes southeast of Rotorua, these lakes are renowned for their striking colors, and the Tarawera road provides a nice, scenic drive
  • Paradise Valley Springs: This wildlife park mainly has farm animals (horses, deer, and goats) you can feed by hand; there is also lion, kea and possum feeding offered at different times throughout the day
  • Waikite Valley Thermal Pools: Experience the ‘Living Waters’ of the Te Manaroa Spring, the largest single source of 100 percent pure boiling water in New Zealand, with several soaking, plunging, and swimming pool options

To learn more about the local culture, visit the Rotorua Museum. The Tudor-style building that houses it was formerly a famous spa house. There is a 20-minute film about Rotorua history that includes the dramatic story of the eruption of Mt. Tarawera (perhaps not suitable for the little ones).

Day 5: Polynesian Spa and travel back to Auckland

Farewell, Auckland!
Farewell, Auckland!

Today, indulge in a visit to Polynesian Spa. Enjoy the four mineral rock pools, each with different temperatures, for a peaceful bathing experience. The pools are surrounded by native New Zealand flora, complete with a waterfall and a grotto.

After your spa visit, follow SH5 and then SH1 to the airport to drop off your car. If you have time, you can choose to make a detour via Waitomo and the glowworm caves, or via Matamata and Hobbiton

Since your flight home is early in the morning, spend your last night near Auckland's airport.

Map

Map of New Zealand: Auckland and Rotorua - 5 Days
Map of New Zealand: Auckland and Rotorua - 5 Days