Nature lovers, film buffs, and wine connoisseurs: get ready to experience 11 days of New Zealand's top cultural and natural highlights. Sample the country's finest wines paired with delicious food during a vineyard tour of Hawke's Bay, and follow in the footsteps of Frodo and Samwise in a "The Lord of the Rings" filming locations tour. Traverse spectacular countryside by car and train as you spot rare wildlife like gannets, kiwis, and even the rare tuatara—New Zealand's living dinosaur.


  • Sample New Zealand's finest wines on a Hawke's Bay wine tour
  • Enjoy a hobbit-style banquet and take a lamp-lit tour of Hobbiton
  • Experience New Zealand's native wildlife—including the famous kiwi—at Zealandia
  • Find underground art shows and boutique vintage stores in Wellington

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Explore Auckland Auckland
Day 2 Kumeu Wine Country Tour Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton Rotorua
Day 4 Explore Rotorua Rotorua
Day 5 Drive to Napier, Progressive Winery Dinner Napier
Day 6 Art Deco Architecture, Vineyards & Wildlife on Hawke's Bay Napier
Day 7 Drive to Martinborough Martinborough
Day 8 Drive to Wellington Wellington
Day 9 Explore Wellington, The Lord of the Rings Tour & Zealandia Wellington
Day 10 Take the Northern Explorer Train to Auckland Auckland
Day 11 Depart Auckland  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

Auckland as viewed from Mount Eden
Auckland, as viewed from Mount Eden

Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival, you'll be met by a private driver who will take you to your Auckland accommodation. The North Island's self-proclaimed "City of Sails," Auckland, is the country's largest metropolitan area. Surrounded by native bush, rainforests, and an abundance of beaches, Auckland is a playground for both city lovers and adventure-seekers. 

There are plenty of ways to spend an entertaining first day in the city. You could wake yourself up with a coffee downtown and watch the sailboats glide from the Viaduct Harbour. Or, instead of just watching, you could be a participant and take the helm of an America's Cup Yacht. Still feeling active? Then hike to the summit of Mount Eden—Auckland's highest volcano. 

If relaxing is more your style, find a good book and head out to a deserted beach. Try Orewa—located an hour north of the city—or stay a little closer and head to Cheltenham Beach in Devonport. Finish on a high with dinner at one of the many trendy eateries to be found on Ponsonby Road, or treat yourself to a gourmet meal on a boat cruise around Auckland's harbors while the sun sets. 

Day 2: Kumeu Wine Country Tour

Get up close to the Muriwai Gannet Colony
Get up close to the Muriwai Gannet Colony

Before you do anything, pick up your rental car—your four-wheeled friend for the rest of your North Island adventure. Once you've dropped it in a safe parking spot, kick your first full day in New Zealand off to a boozy start with a half-day wine tour. Today you'll be leaving the city and heading 20-minutes north-west to Kumeu—Auckland's heritage wine region. Not only will you sample world-renowned wines on this tour, but you will also have lunch at a contemporary vineyard and be driven around the rugged coastline nearby. 

Continuing on, you'll visit the Muriwai Gannet Colony—one of the few mainland nesting sites for these magnificent birds in the world. Situated on the cliffs overlooking the Tasman Sea, you'll have breathtaking views of the beach and ocean beyond. Your final tasting is at West Brook Winery, one of New Zealand's oldest wine producers. By the time you arrive back in Auckland, you will probably fancy a siesta to sleep off all the delicious food and wine. 

Day 3: Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton

Live the hobbit life in Hobbiton
Live the Hobbit life in Hobbiton

Set off in your rental car and meander through the Waikato region. After driving past the Bombay Hills, you'll turn inland toward Matamata, also known as "the real Middle-earth." Here, you'll be able to take an escorted tour of selected locations made famous by "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, as well as the actual set of Hobbiton. For the true fan, sample some traditional Hobbit fare and get stuck into an evening banquet before going on an evening tour through The Shire by lamplight.

As you continue down to Rotorua, you'll be able to stop at the township of Tirau. Don't forget to take a selfie with the largest tin sheep and sheepdog! Tirau also boasts a plethora of art, craft, and antique stores. After a brief exploration of the town, it's time to get back on the road and continue your trip to Rotorua. 
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Day 4: Explore Rotorua

Immerse yourself in Maori culture at Mitai Village
Immerse yourself in Maori culture at Mitai Village

Peppered with natural hot springs, boiling mud pools, and steaming geysers, Rotorua sits within one of the world's most active volcanic regions. The area is also home to several prominent Māori tribes, so there is plenty to do on your free day in the region. If you're looking to satisfy your adrenaline-junkie side, Velocity Valley Adventure Park features stomach-dropping attractions, like their static skydiving or their giant swing, which reaches 80 miles (130 km) per hour. 

For the nature-lovers, take a trip to Rainbow Springs and the National Kiwi Hatchery, where you'll have the chance to see some of New Zealand's native flora and fauna within the majestic forests of Rotorua. See rainbow, brown, and tiger trout in the pool, then visit the on-site aviaries—home to native New Zealand species such as kea, kaka, tui, kereru, and kiwi. You can also catch a glimpse of the tuatara, New Zealand's "living dinosaur." Go behind the scenes with the country's national animal at the purpose-built Kiwi Conservation Centre—created solely to try and stop the extinction of this unique species. 

If time permits, join a canopy tour and journey through the beautiful, native New Zealand forest via a network of trails, tree platforms, zip lines, and swing bridges. Be spellbound by breathtaking views of woodland valleys and hills as you fly through small openings in the trees. In the evening, immerse yourself in Māori culture with a visit to Mitai Māori Village. Enjoy a traditionally cooked hangi meal and a spectacular cultural performance that tells the story of the Māori people. Be captivated by the displays of weaponry and combat as well as the spine-tingling haka finale. 

Day 5: Drive to Napier, Progressive Winery Dinner

Marvel at the sheer power of the Huka Falls
Marvel at the sheer power of the Huka Falls

Set off in the morning and head through the thermal region just south of Rotorua. Home to a plethora of geothermal attractions, including boiling mud pits, natural hot springs, and steaming geysers, this area is a must before you move on to Napier. Notable attractions are Wai-O-Tapu, Waimangu, and Craters of the Moon. Continue to Taupo and marvel at the lake—a giant crater formed by a volcanic eruption in the year 180 CE. As you approach the city, be sure to stop at the powerful Huka Falls and, for an extra thrill, take a jet-boat ride to the base of the falls.

Leave Taupo and follow the road as it climbs the rugged Ahimanawa Range before descending back down the Pacific coast to the Art Deco capital, Napier. Take some time to settle into your accommodation before heading back out for the Odyssey Progressive Winery Dinner: a three-course dinner during a twilight tour of the renowned wine-producing region of Hawke's Bay. A highlight is sipping a glass of New Zealand bubbly on Te Mata Peak while enjoying sunset views over the twinkling Twin Cities. 

Day 6: Art Deco Architecture, Vineyards & Wildlife on Hawke's Bay

Take a ride in a vintage car at Napier
Take a ride in a vintage car at Napier

Take the morning to view Napier's prominent Art Deco landmarks on a 1930s vintage car tour. Passengers will spend just over an hour learning about the history of the city's architecture, including the Napier Municipal Theatre—one of the top 10 Art Deco Buildings in the world. If you're after some fresh air, hire a bike and explore over 125 miles (200 km) of cycling trails, or head down to one of the many beaches in the area, such as Ocean or Waimarama Beach. You could also indulge in some local produce and head out on a cheese, chocolate, honey, or orchard tour. If you haven't sampled enough New Zealand wine yet,  join a half-day tour to visit some of Hawke's Bay's most famous wineries. Meet like-minded people, taste a selection of fantastic wines, and learn about winemaking in the area. Visit four-to-five local wineries and taste syrah, merlot, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc, as well as some of the region's more obscure wines. You can also mix and match some of New Zealand's finest cheeses at the same time.

If you're a nature lover, drive to Te Awanga and join a safari to see the world's largest, most accessible gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers. Their safaris are the only way to get within a few feet of these remarkable birds. In a rugged 4WD, you will traverse riverbeds, rolling pastures, native bush, steep gullies, and breathtaking inclines to reach the colony. 

Day 7: Drive to Martinborough

Visit the vineyards in the Martinborough wine-growing region

Leaving the rolling countryside of Hawke's Bay behind, you'll be greeted with some of New Zealand's richest dairy pastures in the Manawatu Gorge. Continue through the Wairarapa region and stop in the Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre, where you can see some of the country's native animal species. As you drive south, stop off for a coffee in one of Greytown's quaint cafés while appreciating the restored Victorian architecture. Finally, cross over the Ruamahanga River into Martinborough wine country—where you'll be spending the night.

Now that you're in (yes, another!) wine region, how could you pass up the chance to take a half-day wine tour of Martinborough? Visit wonderful vineyards such as Te Kairangi Wines, Tirohana Estate, Cabbage Tree Vineyard, and Martinborough Vineyard on this half-day tour of the premium wine region of Martinborough. Taste the wines, and learn about the development of the region, its people, and its characters from knowledgeable guides. Spend a relaxing evening back in your hotel. 

Day 8: Drive to Wellington

Visit the quirky coffee shops and vibrant art scene in Wellington

Today you will cross the Rimutaka Ranges as you make your way to New Zealand's capital, Wellington. Often compared to Melbourne, Wellington is a vibrant cultural hub. Home to the nation's center of government, legislation happens in the aptly named Beehive, an executive wing attached to the Houses of Parliament. The compact city center (easily traversed on foot) has an international feel and is peppered with underground art shows, alleyway cafés, and New York-style delis. The self-drive portion of your adventure ends here as you drop off our rental car and get ready to explore the city on foot.

Take in the boardwalk view as you stroll to Te Papa Museum, or indulge your cinematic side by exploring Weta Workshop—the Oscar-winning design studio for "The Lord of the Rings." For a taste of vintage fashion, spend some time (and dollars!) on Cuba Street browsing the boutique stores. Work off last night's dinner with a cycling tour of Oriental Bay and undo your good work with a hokey pokey ice cream in the sun. 

Day 9: Explore Wellington, The Lord of the Rings Tour & Zealandia

Keep your eyes peeled for New Zealand's native kiwi bird at Zealandia

So much to do, so little time! Spend the day exploring this melting pot of art, culture, food, and fashion, or opt for a guided excursion, such as a highlights tour of the "World's Coolest Little Capital." Drive through Courtenay Place and Oriental Parade and head up Mount Victoria for spectacular views of the city and harbor. Then skirt the stunning rugged coastline—now a marine reserve—stopping along the way to taste some famous Wellington coffee. Return to the central city and consider riding the iconic Wellington Cable Car.

If you're a "The Lord of the Rings" fan, follow in the Hobbits' footsteps during a Middle-earth film locations half-day tour in Wellington. See Rivendell—the magical elven metropolis; the River Anduin—where the Fellowship voyaged to Amon Hen; and the Gardens of Isengard—where Gandalf rode to see Saruman. Pass by the Mount Victoria lookout and Buckland Forest, where you can find the "shortcut to the mushrooms." 

If you haven't had your fill of activities for the day, take a night tour of the Zealandia wildlife eco-sanctuary. Zealandia is home to many remarkable species of birds, reptiles, and insects living wild within a beautiful 555-acre (225 ha) valley—just 10 minutes from the city center. Your guide will lead you on a torch-lit walk through the native New Zealand bush. Possible sights include kiwi foraging on the forest floor, tuatara hunting for food, glowworms lighting up the night, tiny Maud Island frogs, pateke (brown teal) ducks feeding at night, and kaka (parrots) coming in to roost. 

Day 10: Take the Northern Explorer Train to Auckland

Zoom past Mount Ruapehu on the Northern Explorer train

Wake up to your personal driver who will take you to Wellington railway station. Catch the Northern Explorer, a train that takes you on a journey through the heart of the North Island, between Wellington and Auckland. Along the way, you pass central North Island ski towns and see fantastic views of New Zealand farmland, the volcanic plateau Mount Ruapehu, the world-famous Raurimu Spiral, and stunning river gorges.

All of the carriages feature large, panoramic windows, and the train has open-air viewing decks where you can get a sweeping look at the magnificent North Island. On the other side, your driver will meet you and take you to your hotel, where you will spend your last night in New Zealand.

Day 11: Depart Auckland

Say goodbye to the "City of Sails"
This morning, grab a cup of famous Auckland barista-made coffee and bid farewell to the beautiful North Island. When the time comes, your driver will be waiting to transfer you to the airport, where you will board your departing flight. Safe travels!

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Map of New Zealand North Island Highlights: Culture, Wine & Wildlife - 11 Days
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