Discover New Zealand's family-friendly North Island on this seven-day road trip. Breathe in the fresh sea air on a dolphin and whale watching safari from Auckland, and explore the Hobbiton set from the "The Lord of the Rings" with its grassy mounds and big round doors. Enter the "sulfur city" of Rotorua and imagine you're on another planet as you pass erupting geysers and boiling mud pools before descending into the glittering glowworm cave at Footwhistle.


  • Search for dolphins and whales in the waters around Auckland
  • Explore Frodo's footsteps on a tour of Hobbiton
  • Be mesmerized by boiling mud pools and colorful lakes at Wai-O-Tapu
  • Enter another world on a tour of the sparkling Footwhistle Glowworm Cave

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Sky Tower Dinner Auckland
Day 2 Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari, Waiheke Island Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton Rotorua
Day 4 Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Park Rotorua
Day 5 Drive to Waitomo, Footwhistle Glowworm Cave Tour Waitomo
Day 6 Drive to Auckland, Auckland Harbour Dinner Cruise Auckland
Day 7 Depart Auckland  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Sky Tower Dinner

Watch the sunset and see great views of the Sky Tower from Mount Eden

Welcome to Auckland! There are so many things to see and do in this incredible metropolis. After picking up your family-friendly car, head to your hotel and put your feet up before exploring. Your kids will probably be pumped to see the city, and the Wynyard Quarter is a great place to start. This new area was built for the World Cup, but it also houses the century-old Auckland Fish Market. Just around the corner, you can take a ride on one of the recently restored tramways, a great way to see parts of Auckland and entertain the kids. 

For the nature-loving families out there, you could head straight to Mount Eden, the highest post of the city. From the top, you're able to see both the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, as well as the volcanic cones that create Auckland. After your long flight and subsequent explorations of the city, have dinner at Orbit, a restaurant situated at the top of Auckland's highest building: the Sky Tower. Rotating once an hour and with panoramic views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf, this promises to be a memorable first night in New Zealand's North Island. 

Day 2: Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari, Waiheke Island  

Take your family on a dolphin and whale watching safari

Today you'll embark on an adventurous whale and dolphin watching safari, which departs from Auckland's Viaduct Basin. Enjoy a 4.5-hour cruise aboard the luxurious "Dolphin Explorer" as you navigate the beautiful Hauraki Gulf Marine Park in search of encounters with diverse and magnificent marine wildlife. While cruising, keep your eyes peeled for orcas, dolphins, whales, sharks, turtles, and fur seals, as well as a handful of interesting bird species. 

In the afternoon, why not take the ferry over to Waiheke Island? A great day trip for kids and adults alike, opt for the Waiheke Island Explorer Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour, which will take you past rolling vineyards, white beaches, and forests. Stop at the island's small-scale vineyards to sample some of New Zealand's most distinguished wines while your kids run in and out of the vines or build sandcastles along the island's pristine beaches. Dine at one of the many culinary gems before heading back to Auckland and your hotel for the night. 

Day 3: Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton

Explore the Hobbiton set from "The Lord of the Rings"

You and your family are in for a treat today as you set off in your rental car and meander through the stunning Waikato region. After driving past the Bombay Hills, you'll turn inland toward Matamata, also known as the real Middle-earth. Whether your kids are "The Lord of the Rings" fans or not, they'll love looking at the grassy Hobbit houses with big round doors at the Hobbiton set. For the true fan, you can even sample some traditional Hobbit fare and join the evening banquet, including a hearty Hobbit dinner and an evening tour through The Shire by lamplight.

If you want to get to Rotorua early, however, carry on your drive after visiting the Hobbiton set. Stop at the township of Tirau and explore a variety of different art, craft, and antique stores. After a brief exploration of Tirau, get back on the road to Rotorua. Known as "Sulfur City," Rotorua features many great outdoor activities linked to the geothermal activity in the area. Explore the Buried Village, an excavated village that disappeared in 1886 when Mount Tarawera erupted. Hell's Gate, with its erupting geysers and thermal pools, also fascinates both children and adults alike. After a full-on day, you'll be ready to head to your Rotorua lodgings. 

Day 4: Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Park

Be mesmerized by the colorful lakes at Wai-O-Tapu

Get ready for hot springs, boiling mud pools, and brightly colored lakes at the Wai-O-Tapu reserve. The area has been sculpted by thousands of years of volcanic activity, which you can experience up close on a walking tour or by taking one of the 30 to 75-minute trails. Your kids are sure to be mesmerized by the otherworldly appeal of Wai-O-Tapu, and the park even has plenty of stroller-friendly paths for families with small children. 

If you still have some time left in the day, check out the Skyline Gondola and Luge, where you can choose your own adventure from three different luge experiences to a ride on the zip line. If your family-friendly accommodation has babysitting as an optional service, parents could spend a relaxing, child-free evening enjoying a unique thermal spa experience at Polynesian Spa—New Zealand's leading international day spa. 

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Day 5: Drive to Waitomo, Footwhistle Glowworm Cave Tour

Descend into the Footwhistle Glowworm Cave

Today's drive takes you through the rolling green farmland of the Waikato District and King Country. Follow the Waikato River and continue to the quaint town of Cambridge, which has been named "New Zealand's Most Beautiful Large Town." Then, turn south and head toward the limestone region of Waitomo, where you will join a tour of the magical Footwhistle Glowworm Cave. Enjoy a scenic shuttle to the cave while your experienced guide reveals the rich history of Waitomo, and then take a short walk through native bushland to the cave entrance.

From the entrance onward, you will be transported into another world as your guide lights candles for you so you and your kids can learn all about the spectacular cave formations up close. In the dim light, you will begin to notice that the air is sparkling with glowworms while the soothing sound of the Footwhistle cave stream trickles into the darkness below. After enjoying the tour through the cave, take a seat in Footwhistle's Cathedral to see it lit up by a dazzling magnesium torch. Finish the tour with a complimentary kawa tea and take the shuttle back to your Waitomo accommodation. 

Day 6: Drive to Auckland, Auckland Harbour Dinner Cruise

Have a close-up look at New Zealand's namesake bird, the kiwi

Pack your car and head back to Auckland. Take in the breathtaking scenery of lush Waikato farmland and Waitomo's limestone hills as you head north to the "City of Sails." Along the way, stop by the Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park for an insightful look at some of New Zealand's native species, including its famous flightless namesake, the kiwi bird. This is sure to be a hit with children who are animal lovers.

Once you reach the city, drop your things in your hotel and get ready for a truly memorable last evening of your New Zealand tour. Tonight you'll enjoy a dining experience on the water as you sail around Auckland's Waitematā Harbour. Watch the city twinkle after the sun dips into the horizon while you and your family are treated to drinks and canapés. Tuck into your main course as you set off toward Westhaven Marina, and finish the evening with a tasty dessert as you sail back to Auckland's Viaduct Harbour.

Day 7: Depart Auckland

Sunset over Auckland's beaches
Sadly, it's time to say goodbye to New Zealand! Depending on your flight, you may have some extra time to head down to the harbor so that you and the kids can stretch your legs before the long flight. After you've parted with your rental car at the airport depot, it's time to catch your flight back home. Safe travels!

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to New Zealand? Check out these other New Zealand itineraries, explore different ways to spend seven days in New Zealand with the family, or discover the best time to visit New Zealand.


Map of New Zealand North Island Family Adventure: Dolphins, Glowworms & Hobbiton - 7 Days
Map of New Zealand North Island Family Adventure: Dolphins, Glowworms & Hobbiton - 7 Days