This family-friendly adventure takes you along the North Island highlights of New Zealand in 10 days. Begin in Auckland to do some sightseeing, and enjoy a wildlife adventure at Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World and Antarctic Encounter. Then, drive to the Coromandel Peninsula to tour the beaches, coves, and gorges. Next is Rotorua, the geothermal city, to discover the Buried Village, Wai-O-Tapu, and Hells Gate Geothermal Park. Enjoy some outdoor thrills in the activities capital of Taupo, an enriching visit to Te Papa National Museum in Wellington, and so much more on this all-ages tour.

Highlights

  • Visit Auckland's penguins and sharks on a tour of Kelly Tarlton's
  • Tour Wai-O-Tapu, Buried Village, and Hells Gate in geothermal Rotorua
  • Go bungee jumping or skydiving in the activities capital of Taupo
  • Learn about the indigenous Maori at the prestigious Te Papa National Museum

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Auckland & Self-Guided Tour Auckland
Day 2 Auckland Exploration & Kelly Tarlton's Excursion Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Coromandel Peninsula, Beach & Cove Tour Coromandel
Day 4 Coromandel - Hot Water Beach & Karangahake Gorge Coromandel
Day 5 Drive to Rotorua & Wai-O-Tapu Tour Rotorua
Day 6 Rotorua - Waimangu Volcanic Valley & Hot Springs Rotorua
Day 7 Drive to Taupō & Explore the Sights Taupo
Day 8 Drive to Wellington & Tour Te Papa National Museum Wellington
Day 9 Wellington - Scenic Walk, Cable Cars, & Botanic Gardens Wellington
Day 10 Depart From New Zealand  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Auckland and self-guided tour

Welcome to Auckland!
Welcome to Auckland!

Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival, check in to your hotel, and then it’s time to enjoy the “Big Little City.” Enjoy some sightseeing around Auckland, there is plenty to do:

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Visit Mission Bay, which is a busy beach in the summertime, and also a residential area with great views 

Day 2: Auckland exploration and Kelly Tarlton's excursion

Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island

Wake up and head out on an adventure to Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World and Antarctic Encounter. The destination is accessible by bus, and the drive along Auckland Harbour is both scenic and relaxing. This popular tourist spot allows the entire family to get up close to penguin colonies playing in real ice and snow. Watch as they swim and plunge beneath the ice cap. Continue on through an underwater glass tunnel to come face to face with sharks and other native New Zealand marine life.

Following the wildlife tour, return to Auckland, and explore any sights you may have missed yesterday. Or, consider a few new stops. For long excursions, you can visit Waiheke Island. Take a scenic, 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland with a great view back toward the city as you pass other gulf islands and take in the lively activity in the harbor along the way. The island can be explored on a day trip, and you can rent a car once you get there to fully enjoy the beaches and the vineyards.

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.

The historic seaside village of Devonport has a charming and relaxed atmosphere, too. Stroll around the village at your leisure and visit some of its attractions, including the many art galleries, historic points of interest, and lookouts.

Day 3: Drive to the Coromandel Peninsula, and visit the beaches and coves

Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove

A shuttle from your rental car company will pick you up around 9 am at your accommodation. Then, pick up your car and hit the road to Coromandel, a favorite holiday destination of Aucklanders, with its scenic coastlines and great beaches.

Spend two days in Coromandel at your leisure. Visit Cathedral Cove, which is named after the cave located there. The area is very popular with tourists, and is a good spot for swimming—it’s a marine reserve. There is a 1.5-hour walking track from the northern end of Hahei Beach, and it’s also possible to walk from the local council car park at the top of the headland between Hahei and Gemstone Bay. You can also get there by boat or kayak.

Make a stop at Whangapoua and New Chums Beach, too, known as one of the top-rated beaches in the world. Despite its reputation, this locale is still considered a stunning, not-to-be-missed hidden gem.

Enjoy the evening at your leisure, and prepare for more exploration tomorrow.

Day 4: Coromandel - Visit Hot Water Beach and Karangahake Gorge 

A waterfall in Waihi
A waterfall in Waihi

Today, feel free to visit the beaches you may have skipped yesterday. Or you can make your way to Hot Water Beach, where some volcanoes develop large, underground reservoirs of superheated water. Over time, this water will escape to the surface—cooling on the way. There are two fissures at Hot Water Beach issuing water as hot as 147F° at up to 4 gallons per minute. This water contains large amounts of salts—calcium, magnesium, potassium, fluorine, bromine, and silica. Bring your bathing suit if you’d like to take a dip along the way. It’s also nice here at night, under the stars, if the tide is right.

In addition, plan a stop at Karangahake Gorge, which is located on SH2, between Paeroa and Waihi. The site of the original Gold Rush in 1875 and steeped in gold mining history, it’s now a more peaceful location offering visitors a perfect place to explore. Follow the old railway formation and walk the popular Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway, alongside the sparkling Ohinemuri River. Seek out the gold trails in the spectacular Waitawheta Gorge, as well.

Day 5: Drive to Rotorua and Wai-O-Tapu tour

Wai-O-Tapu
Wai-O-Tapu

Today, drive 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.

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.

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

Day 6: Rotorua - Waimangu Volcanic Valley and hot springs

Take a Skyline cable car ride overlooking Rotorua
Head up the Skyline Gondola overlooking Rotorua

Today, circle back to any sights you missed yesterday, or head out on a few new adventures.

Visit Waimangu Volcanic Valley on a walk or hike that takes you on an ecology-focused adventure of the craters. As you walk through the youngest ecosystems in the world, view a range of geothermal activity, native plants, and birdlife. At any stage of your walk, you can take a courtesy shuttle bus, which regularly circles the valley, back to the Waimangu Visitor Centre.

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.

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.

Enjoy the night on your own, before departing Rotorua tomorrow.

Day 7: Drive to Taupō and explore the sights

Lake Taupo
Lake Taupo

Today, drive to Taupō, the North Island’s capital of outdoor activities, like bungee jumping, jet boating, helicopter flights, skydiving, and more.

First, visit Huka Falls, the country's most popular natural attraction that can be reached by car, on foot, by bike, jet-boat or helicopter—the turn off is on SH1.

Next, check out the Volcanic Activity Centre to explore the mysteries of the Taupō Volcanic Zone. Learn the secrets of the local volcanoes and geothermal areas by experiencing the interactive and educational displays and videos.

Make a stop at family-friendly Huka Prawn Park, where a guide named Shawn the Prawn will lead you on an exciting adventure through the world of the prawn. Hand feed the baby prawns, fish for the feisty prawns, and feast on fresh ones.

Then, take a step back in time to the geothermal wonderland and traditional Maori village life of New Zealand’s first people at Wairakei Terraces. Amidst the terraces, mud pools, geysers, and sacred healing spa, listen to the alluring stories and Maori legends.

You can also choose between the following activities:

  • Visit Craters of the Moon (Karapiti), an area of thermal activity with boiling mud pools and steam vents
  • Go on a 2-hour cruise around Lake Taupō, which includes a visit to the Maori rock drawings—if the weather is favorable, you can enjoy views as far as Tongariro National Park
  • Enjoy a skydiving or bungee jumping excursion—this is a great location for it, where you can avoid the crowds and high prices
  • Stroll the beaches, like Acacia Bay—beware of cold water temperatures, though, even in the summer months
  • Pamper yourself at Taupō Debretts Hot Springs Spa, where natural, thermal springs with indoor and outdoor hot pools, therapeutic massages, and beauty treatments are available

Day 8: Drive to Wellington and tour Te Papa National Museum

The Parliament buildings in Wellington
The Parliament buildings in Wellington

Make your way to Wellington today, which is set on the edge of a stunning harbor and surrounded by rolling hills. Wellington is known as the city with the most cafés/bars per person, alongside New York.

Visit Te Papa National Museum to start. New Zealand's bold and innovative national museum is an interactive and visitor-focused museum experiences and offers free entry. Learn about native geology and the natural environment. Hear the stories of New Zealand's indigenous people, the Māori, who are celebrated in Te Papa's permanent exhibitions, while Te Papa's Marae is a vibrant contemporary meeting house and a living communal center—unique for a museum.

Next, stroll the Beehive, Parliament House, and Parliamentary Library. The Beehive is the executive wing of the Parliament House that was built in the 1970s. Parliament House itself was finished in the 1920s and is where New Zealand’s parliament meets. The Parliamentary Library (circa 1899) is a photo-worthy pit stop.

Enjoy the evening at your leisure, and continue enjoying more of Wellington tomorrow.

Day 9: Wellington - Scenic walk, cable car ride, and Botanic Gardens

Take a cable car ride in Wellington
Take a cable car ride in Wellington

Today, continue your exploration of Wellington. Visit the museum if you did not make it yesterday, and enjoy some of the outdoor sights today.

Take the City to Sea Walkway, a rich and varied walk from one end of the city into the surrounding suburbs and hills, and then to the rocky shores of the south coast. It sports wonderful views of Cook Strait and Kaikoura Ranges. The walk takes approximately 4 hours.

Get a panoramic view of the city from the top of Mt Victoria Lookout, and watch as the Interislander sails into the harbor and the planes fly in and out of the airport. In addition, one of Wellington's most popular tourist attractions is the cable car ride. 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.

If you enjoy flora, visit the Botanic Gardens, which is a great place for a scenic walk, as well as a picnic lunch. Following the day's activities, enjoy a nice dinner on your final evening in New Zealand.

Day 10: Depart from New Zealand

Farewell, New Zealand!
Farewell, New Zealand!

Today, return your rental car and make the transfer to the airport for your departure flight home. Until next time!

Map

Map of New Zealand: North Island Family Adventure - 10 Days
Map of New Zealand: North Island Family Adventure - 10 Days