Ideal for adventure lovers and active travelers, this nine-day, self-drive itinerary features the best of New Zealand's North Island. Board an ocean safari for dolphin watching in the Bay of Islands, explore New Zealand's rich Maori history, and experience the mighty power of the Pacific Ocean at Cape Reinga. After beachcombing and snorkeling time at Snells Beach, head inland to Rotorua for rejuvenating geothermal pools, a Maori cultural dinner, and sparkling glowworm caves.


  • Take a sunny stroll around Waitemata Harbour in downtown Auckland
  • Explore over 140 subtropical atolls in the Bay of Islands 
  • Watch the mighty Pacific and the Tasman Sea collide at Cape Reinga
  • Immerse yourself in Maori tradition and food with Te Pa Tu Cultural Experience
  • See the craftsmanship of over 30,000 glowworms at Waitomo's limestone caves

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland Auckland
Day 2 Drive to Paihia Paihia
Day 3 Bay of Islands, Waitangi Treaty Grounds & Hole in the Rock Cruise Paihia
Day 4 Cape Reinga & Ninety Mile Beach Tour Paihia
Day 5 Drive to Snells Beach Snells Beach
Day 6 Drive to Rotorua, Te Pā Tū Evening Māori Cultural Experience Rotorua
Day 7 Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland & Polynesian Spa  Rotorua
Day 8 Glowworm Cave Explorer Tour, Drive to Auckland Auckland
Day 9 Depart Auckland   

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

Night time views of the Auckland skyline
Nighttime views of the Auckland skyline

Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, Auckland's urban paradise is a playground for both the city-savvy and the adventure seeker. Upon arrival, your driver will greet you and deliver you to your accommodation by private transfer. Kick back and relax while adjusting to the time change, or start exploring New Zealand's largest metropolitan area right away with a visit to the Sky Tower. Delivering panoramic views of the "City of Sails," bungee jumping is also available if you really want to get your blood pumping!

If acquiring your sea legs is more your thing, a sunny stroll around Waitemata Harbour will do the trick. Translated to "sparkling waters" in the Māori language, the harbor features a number of sailing, cruising, and whale watching excursions. With fresh salty sea air in your lungs and breathtaking views of the city's skyline in your mind's eye, it's time to kick off your North Island adventure!

Day 2: Drive to Paihia

Drive north to Paihia and the Bay of Islands 

Roadtrippers will enjoy today's scenic drive from Auckland to Paihia, the gateway to the Bay of Islands. Start your day by picking up your rental car. Plan for plenty of sightseeing along the way, including stops at the historical township of Puhoi. Its vibrant, bohemian atmosphere is a remnant of former immigrants from the Czech Republic.

A short drive up the road from Puhoi, you'll find yourself in the quayside community of Whangārei. Release your pent-up energy with a hike to the summit of Mount Parihaka, the highest point in the city. Or, explore the remains of the largest fortified village in New Zealand, Māori Pā, before continuing north to Paihia for the afternoon.

Day 3: Bay of Islands, Waitangi Treaty Grounds & Hole in the Rock Cruise

Explore the white beaches and turquoise waters of the Bay of Islands

Today is yours to explore! Take the morning to discover over 140 subtropical atolls in the Bay of Islands. Enjoy your free time lounging on a remote stretch of beach or board an ocean safari for dolphin watching. Or, spend your afternoon exploring the once-bustling whaling port of Russell (and the one-time capital of New Zealand). Learn about game fishing culture with a visit to the Bay of Islands Swordfish Club, the oldest game fishing club in New Zealand.

For a deep dive into Māori culture, pay a visit to one of New Zealand's most important historical sites, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Learn about the impact of the Treaty of Waitangi on New Zealand's development as a country, and partake in a traditional Māori cultural performance. Or, opt for a scenic cruise to the dual-named Motukōkako Island (Piercy Island), more popularly known as Hole in the Rock. If conditions permit, your skipper will expertly guide the ship through the narrow space. Keep an eye out for bottlenose dolphins, whales, and other marine life during your cruise.

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Day 4: Cape Reinga & Ninety Mile Beach Tour

Cape Reinga, New Zealand's northernmost point
Cape Reinga, New Zealand's northernmost point

On this unforgettable full-day tour, you'll journey to the very tip of the North Island, discovering a region rich in Māori tradition along the way. Throughout the day, your local driver will provide entertaining commentary and thought-provoking insights into the culture, history, and natural wonders of the far north. Highlights include skirting along the sand-swept shores of Ninety Mile Beach in a purpose-built bus and visiting the massive sand dunes at Te Paki Stream to experience the thrills of sand surfing.

Finally, end your day with a visit to Cape Reinga, New Zealand's northernmost point. In Māori tradition, Cape Reinga is where spirits would depart on their long journey back to the Hawaiki (homeland). Feel the power of this special place as you stand beneath the iconic lighthouse, watching the Tasman Sea and the mighty Pacific Ocean collide far below.

Day 5: Drive to Snells Beach

Beautiful sunsets from Snells Beach
Beautiful sunsets from Snells Beach

Time for another epic road trip today! You'll hop back in your rental car, making your way south to the idyllic seaside community of Snells Beach, a popular holiday destination for locals. While visiting this quaint coastal town, visit Brick Bay vineyard for tastings and flights of their highly acclaimed handcrafted wines. Their on-site restaurant, The Glass House, features seasonal cuisine inspired by farm-fresh produce and orchards.

Take advantage of the seaside with a visit to the nearby Tāwharanui Marine Reserve. This family-friendly spot is great for swimming, exploring tidepools, and snorkeling. The reserve is home to roughly 50 species of fish and lobster. Bottle-nosed dolphins and orcas often visit the reserve, too!

Day 6: Drive to Rotorua, Te Pā Tū Evening Māori Cultural Experience

Tranquil Matamata, a film site for the Lord of the Rings

Continuing south through Auckland, State Highway 1 quickly turns into rolling green farmland and rich dairy pastures, marking your arrival in the Waikato region. On your drive, stop by the village of Matamata to explore film locations made famous by the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Continuing on, you'll pass several small farming communities before telltale signs of steam and other geothermal activity signal your arrival in Rotorua.

New Zealand's most awarded cultural attraction, Te Pā Tū (formerly Tamaki Māori Village), invites manuhiri (guests) to an evening filled with Māori history, tradition, and culture. Centered around a three-course feast, you'll start the evening with an opening ceremony followed by kai horotai (seasonal canapés). Guided by torchlight to the three-course feast, the Māori fusion dishes on offer are often created using the traditional hāngī method as you celebrate the spirit of hākari (feasting) and of New Zealand.

Day 7: Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland & Polynesian Spa

Explore New Zealand's extensive network of geothermal activity in Rotorua

Peppered with natural hot springs, boiling mud pools, and steaming geysers, Rotorua sits within one of the world's most active volcanic regions. Sculpted by thousands of years of volcanic activity, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is a spectacular showcase of New Zealand's most colorful and unique geothermal elements. Explore this out-of-this-world natural landscape, shaped by what lies below the surface—one of the most extensive geothermal systems in New Zealand that extends over 7 square miles (18 sq km).

For a truly rejuvenating experience, head to Rotorua's Polynesian Spa. Overlooking Lake Rotorua, enjoy stunning 360-degree lake views in the comfort of your very own private deluxe pool as geothermal mineral waters soak your cares away. 

Day 8: Glowworm Cave Explorer Tour, Drive to Auckland

A glowworm cave in Waitomo
Enjoy nature's handiwork with a visit to the glowworm caves of Waitomo

The rolling green farmland of the Waikato region and King Country greets you outside your car window for today's drive to Waitomo. Guided by New Zealand's longest river, the Waikato River, you will encounter the village of Tirau, famous for its corrugated iron sculptures. Stop by the quaint township of Cambridge for a short rest stop before turning south toward the limestone region of Waitomo.

Upon arrival, embark on a relaxing boat tour through the region's spectacular limestone caves. Feast your eyes on beautifully-lit caverns home to over 30,000 glowworms. A post-tour stroll through the Cave of the Spirit gets you up close and personal with ancient riverbeds and prehistoric bird fossils. Departing Waitomo, enjoy the breathtaking scenery of lush Waikato farmland and Waitomo's limestone hills as you head north to Auckland for the evening.

Day 9: Depart Auckland

Auckland skyline in the distance
Auckland is the ideal city for both adventure seekers and city lovers

Your adventure comes to an end today as you depart for home or onto other adventures. Depending on your flight, you may have additional time to explore more of vibrant Auckland. Upon arrival at the airport, drop your rental car off at the airport depot, and bid farewell to the breathtaking North Island! 

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Map of New Zealand North Island Explorer - 9 Days
Map of New Zealand North Island Explorer - 9 Days