See the North Island from top to bottom on this eight-day New Zealand road trip. Get to know the "City of Sails" in Auckland, then set out into the rainforests of Waitakere and the lush farmland of Waikato. Visit Hobbit houses in the real Middle-earth and venture into glowworm-illuminated caves, then follow the smell of sulfur to Rotorua and its geothermal wonders. After hiking to the dormant volcanoes of Tongariro National Park, end your adventure among the quirky urban charm of Wellington.


  • Trek through breathtaking rainforests near Auckland
  • Journey into Waitomo's glittering glowworm caverns 
  • Soak in the geothermal sulfur pools of Rotorua
  • Take a scenic hike among Tongariro National Park's dormant volcanoes

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Evening Kayak & Barbecue Excursion Auckland
Day 2 Explore Urban Auckland & the Waitakere Ranges Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton Rotorua
Day 4 Rotorua Crater Walk Experience & Sulphur Spas Rotorua
Day 5 Drive to Tongariro National Park Tongariro National Park
Day 6 Ten Tunnel Rail Cart Tour & Whakapapa Village Tongariro National Park
Day 7 Drive to Wellington & Explore the Capital Wellington
Day 8 Depart Wellington  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Evening Kayak & Barbecue Excursion

Auckland's skyline in the evening
Sunset over Auckland's harbor

Welcome to Auckland! Upon arrival at the airport, you'll pick up your rental car and head into the city. Besides its bustling urban center with chic waterfront promenades, the area surrounding New Zealand's largest city is home to 26 regional parks that feature a diverse array of landscapes. 

The remainder of the day is yours to explore. Visit Waiheke Island via a scenic 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland and enjoy beaches and wineries. Walk around Wynyard Quarter or Britomart to grab some food, and make your way to the dizzying Sky Tower for a great view and an adrenaline rush. 

As the sun sets, join a kayak tour to Rangitoto Island, the largest and youngest of Auckland's volcanoes. Take a one-hour hike to the summit to enjoy the spectacular sights along the way, then return to the water's edge, where a healthy kiwi-style barbecue dinner awaits. After enjoying the meal, kayak back south in the dark, under the glow of the city lights and stars above.

Day 2: Explore Urban Auckland & the Waitakere Ranges

The black volcanic sands at Piha

Experience the best of Auckland from two different perspectives today, starting with a morning city tour. Known as the "City of Sails," Auckland is set on over 50 dormant volcano cones and situated between two beautiful natural harbors. Along today's journey of discovery, you'll uncover the city's history and sights and get a glimpse into local life as you see how Aucklanders live and play. 

Switch gears for an afternoon eco-tour to the rainforests of the Waitakere Ranges. Travel to the Arataki Center to enjoy breathtaking panoramic views, then continue into lush ancient forests to walk among giant tree ferns and view New Zealand's famous kauri trees. Feel the black sand of Piha beneath your feet as you stroll along some of the most awe-inspiring beaches the world has to offer. After an afternoon spent in nature, you'll head back to the city center to spend the night at your leisure.

Day 3: Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton

One of Hobbiton's charming Hobbit homes

Experience the real Middle-earth today at the Hobbiton movie set. Located in the heart of the Waikato region, step into the lush pastures of the Shire, as seen in the "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" trilogies. Your guide will escort you around the set, highlighting intricate details, pointing out the most famous locations, and explaining how movie magic was made among New Zealand's spectacular natural scenery.

Next, enjoy a scenic shuttle ride to a cave and learn about the rich history of Waitomo. On arrival, the guide will light candles to set the scene for an intimate experience. See glowworms and cave formations up close and appreciate the beauty of Footwhistle Cave as the guide tells of the animal life that lives here, such as the titiwai (glowworm) and the tuna (eel). After enjoying a stroll through the cave, sit in Footwhistle Cathedral to see it lit up by a dazzling magnesium torch.

For an unforgettable dining experience, head to Te Pā Tū (formally called Tamaki Māori Village), New Zealand's most awarded cultural attraction, which invites manuhiri (guests) to a knowledge-sharing event centered around a three-course feast. During the four-hour celebration, you will get to experience Māori history, traditions, and culture through food, performance, and stories. Afterward, you'll continue to your accommodations in Rotorua for the evening. 

Day 4: Rotorua Crater Walk Experience & Sulphur Spas

See geothermal steam and geysers in Rotorua

Start today with a guided walking tour through the unique landscapes and history of Mount Tarawera. Famous for its massive eruption on June 10, 1886, Mount Tarawera created the world's youngest geothermal valley of Waimangu and destroyed the legendary Pink and White Terraces. With unmatched scenic vistas and 360-degree panoramic views, this experience is ideal for all ages and includes an optional run into the heart of the volcanic crater.

Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
This afternoon you can spend some time exploring Rotorua's geothermal activity on your own. Head to Hell's Gate for a self-guided interactive geothermal walk, then dive into its geothermal mud and acidic sulfur waters to experience the healing properties that the local Māori have been using for more than 800 years. The warm mud will open and clear your pores while soothing mineral waters relax tired muscles. After a blissful afternoon at this natural sulfur spa, head back into town relaxed and refreshed.

Day 5: Drive to Tongariro National Park

See dormant volcanoes in New Zealand's oldest national park

Strike out south from Rotorua today for the two-hour drive to Tongariro National Park. The oldest national park in New Zealand and one of the oldest national parks in the world, Tongariro has the distinction of being one of a handful of places to hold dual UNESCO World Heritage status for both its cultural and natural significance.

Home to three dormant volcanoes, the park is also the site of the most famous one-day hike in the country: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing that connects Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe. Experience a portion of the trek today with a range of optional routes, from easy 30-minute walks to the full-day hike. Be sure to organize your short walk or day hike according to the weather forecast. At the end of your excursion, get settled into your local accommodation and enjoy a peaceful night in Tongariro National Park.

Day 6: Ten Tunnel Rail Cart Tour & Whakapapa Village

Follow a forgotten railway through scenic countryside

Begin your adventure-filled day in Taumarunui, where you will meet your guide at the Forgotten World Adventures depot. Hop into a rail cart and set off along the historic tracks of this abandoned railway, traveling through 10 beautiful hand-built brick tunnels in between stunning hill country farms and native bush. A lovely plowman's lunch will be waiting for your arrival at Tokirima, after which you will board your return shuttle.

On your return journey, visit Lauren's Lavender Farm to breathe in the relaxing aromas of the lavender fields next to the Whanganui River and browse the gift shop that features a variety of local lavender products. Spend your afternoon relaxing back at your hotel, or head to the charming alpine surrounds of Whakapapa Village to set out on one of the region's many circular walks or hikes.

Day 7: Drive to Wellington & Explore the Capital

Wellington's iconic red cable cars

Continue south today on the scenic drive to the North Island's southernmost city of Wellington. Often referred to as "mini Melbourne," this windy capital of New Zealand is a melting pot of art, culture, food, and fashion. Quirky laneway bars, underground art shows, and hipster eateries make up its inner city vibe, while a host of sandy beaches outside the urban bustle bring a cheerful holiday feel.

Head to Te Papa Museum for a history lesson and a ticket to one of its many international exhibitions, or jump aboard the Wellington Cable Car at Lambton Quay—the only running funicular railway in the country. Wander along Cuba Street to sample some of the city's best vintage stores, then break for coffee at a hipster café and be sure to snap a pic outside the "Beehive," New Zealand's parliamentary debate chamber. If you're a foodie at heart, a two-hour round trip to the wine country of Martinborough is a can't-miss experience. 

Day 8: Depart Wellington

Ferry from Wellington
A ferry departing Wellington

Spend a final morning soaking up the laid-back atmosphere of Wellington. When the time comes, you'll drive to the airport to drop off your rental car and catch your departing flight. 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 eight days in New Zealand, and discover the best time of year to visit New Zealand


Map of New Zealand North Island Road Trip: Auckland to Wellington - 8 Days
Map of New Zealand North Island Road Trip: Auckland to Wellington - 8 Days