This self-drive itinerary covers the highlights of New Zealand's North Island, from Auckland to Wellington. Along the way, you will park your car and switch to your mountain bike to ride unique cycling trails covering historic logging and railway routes, through dramatic landscapes of native bush, volcanoes, and mountains.

Highlights

  • Cycle steep inclines up and around Mount Pureora, hiking to its summit for a picnic
  • Ride the Old Coach Road and learn how the historic railway was built 
  • Count the fur seals from atop Cape Palliser's lighthouse
  • Explore Wellington's impressive gastronomic scene 

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland Auckland
Day 2 Explore Auckland; Drive to Cambridge Cambridge
Day 3 Cycle Cambridge; Drive to Timber Trail Lodge Timber Trail Lodge
Day 4 Timber Trail: Pureora village to Piropiro Timber Trail Lodge
Day 5 Timber Trail: Piropiro to Tongariro National Park Ruapehu
Day 6 Tongariro National Park; Cycling Old Coach Road Ruapehu
Day 7 Martinborough; Visit Cape Palliser & Putangirua Pinnacles Martinborough
Day 8 Rimutaka Cycling Trail Martinborough
Day 9 Explore Wellington Wellington
Day 10 Depart Wellington  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

Auckland cityscape view from the top of Auckland Sky Tower, North Island
Auckland cityscape view from the top of Auckland Sky Tower

Welcome to Auckland!  Often referred to as the "Big Little City", Auckland is New Zealand's largest city. Settle into your accommodation before taking the rest of the afternoon to explore your surroundings. Ride the glass-fronted elevator up the Sky Tower, the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand, for an overview of the city. Head to Britomart for your choice of restaurants and bars to enjoy an evening meal, followed by a stroll to check out the harbor.

Day 2: Explore Auckland - Drive to Cambridge

Hobbiton in Matama - New Zealand
Visit the Hobbiton movie set in Matamata

Spend a few hours this morning exploring more of Auckland. Adventure enthusiasts might enjoy an early morning bungee experience, the SkyJump, 11 seconds of an adrenaline rush as you fall Sky Tower's 53 stories. If that's not your thing, walk over to Wynward Quarter, a former industrial hub, that is now up and coming with the locals. Visit the Auckland Fish Market for an early lunch, hop on a 50-year old restored tram and ride to New Zealand's oldest neighborhood, Parnell, to discover its galleries and cafés. If there's time, check out the historic suburb of Devenport for scenic waterfront lookouts.

In the afternoon, you will be picked up by a representative from a car rental company to choose your vehicle. Once all the necessary paperwork is in order, drive south to charming Cambridge. Sitting on the banks of the Waikato River, Cambridge is known as "The Town of Trees and Champions" for its picturesque setting and its production of Thoroughbred studs and world-class athletes. 

As Cambridge is strategically located between some of the North Islands most popular sights, you'll have the option to visit Rotorua, Tauranga, Raglan, or Matamata (the filming location for Hobbiton in The Lord of the Rings' movies), and the Waitomo Caves before checking into your hotel in Cambridge. Or if you would rather stretch the legs, cyclists will appreciate taking advantage of Cambridge's purpose-built track, the Te Awa River Ride. The track begins in the middle of Cambridge and follows the Waikato River (New Zealand's longest) to the Avantidrome, the national home of cycling. 

Driving time: 2 hours

Day 3: Cycle Cambridge - Drive to Timber Trail Lodge

New Zealand - Waikato river near Fairfield Bridge, Hamilton
Cycle along the Waikato River in Hamilton, near Cambridge

This morning you will go on a combined walk and cycle venture along the Waikato River. Meet your driver and transfer to the starting point where you will trek about an hour following the river through native bush, stopping to admire the striking vistas. Keep an eye out for local birds like fantails, shags, and herons as you work your way to the Arapuni Dam to collect your bikes. Break up the ride with a stop at the popular Rhubarb Café for a coffee and light snack and then continue along the track, through tunnels and over swing bridges, to the Lake District Adventure Base.

You'll transfer back to your hotel mid-afternoon to clean up and check out and then drive on south to the Timber Trail Lodge in Piropiro, Pureora Forest Park, conveniently located on the Timber Trail. The Pureora Timber Trail is part of Nga Haerenga, one of 22 great rides that make up The New Zealand Cycle Trail network. 

Driving time: 2.5 hours

Day 4: Timber Trail: Pureora village to Piropiro

Ride amid lush nature over the Mangatukutuku suspension bridge

After a hearty breakfast, prepare your picnic lunch and get ready for Day 1 of your Timber Trail ride. You will be picked up by the Lodge's shuttle service and transferred to the starting point in Pureora Village for the day's ride.

This will be the hardest day of the trail, but the fantastic and varied views, as well as some exhilarating long downhill rides, broken up by a few suspension bridges, will make it well worth the effort! Ride the first demanding 9 miles (14 km), working your way up and around the side of Mount Pureora. Stop for a hike to the summit of Mount Pureora (about an hour and 15 minutes)—a perfect spot for an early lunch, or to admire the panoramic views. Continue downhill to your first suspension bridge, followed by the final section of the ride with an easy downhill ride back to the lodge.

Return to the Lodge, park your bike, and begin to unwind before readying yourself for dinner.

Cycling distance: 24.8 miles (40 km)
Cycling time: approx. 5 hours

Day 5: Timber Trail: Piropiro to Tongariro National Park

View of the still-active Mount Ngauruhoe

After breakfast and preparing your lunch, head out for Day 2 of your Timber Trail experience. Less demanding than the previous day, the ride begins with a climb, followed by the largest of the suspension bridges on the trail allowing you to cross over the Maramataha Gorge. Continue along well-defined logging tramways created in the early 20th century and into the final quarter of the trail for some fun. Enjoy the long sweeping descents, the Ongarue Spiral, and the native bush that surrounds you as you make your way to the end of the trail at the Ongarue Bennett Road Carpark

Meet your driver and shuttle back to the lodge to shower and load your car before heading south toward Ongarue and to Ruapehu National Park. Along the way, you will pass through Tongariro National Park, the oldest national park in New Zealand and the fourth oldest in the world. UNESCO-protected, Tongariro is home to three sleeping volcanoes, one of which was featured in Peter Jackson's films, Lord of the Rings, as Mount Doom (Mount Ngauruhoe). 

Settle into your accommodation in Ruapehu and rest up for your continued cycling adventure tomorrow.

Cycling distance: 26.1 miles (42 km)
Cycling time: approx. 5 hours
Driving time (Piropiro - National Park): 2.5 hours

Day 6: Tongariro National Park - Cycling Old Coach Road

New Zealand - An image of a Mount Ruapehu volcano
Mount Ruapehu volcano

Meet your driver to transfer to your starting point of the Old Coach Road Cycling Trail. The nine-mile (15 km) trail, one of New Zealand's premium trails, offers cyclists a glimpse into the past of what life was like building railways in the region using only horse and carriage. Upon completion, you'll be picked up at the end of the trail in Ohakune. Here you can relax with a bite to eat, choosing from an array of cafés before transferring back to Ruapehu.

If you're up for it, explore more of Ruapehu National Park with a hike.

Cycling time: 2.5 hours (suitable for all experiences)

Day 7: Drive to Martinborough - Visit Cape Palliser & Putangirua Pinnacles

Cape Palliser's local wildlife, fur seals

This morning you will drive further south to the friendly community of Martinborough. Surrounded by 35 vineyards, among them are Palliser Estate, Tirohana, Craggy Range, and Te Kairanga, there are plenty of wineries to choose from to enjoy a warm lunch and sample some local wines. If there's interest, it's worth the short trip to Cape Palliser to see the North Islands most southern lighthouse as well as the many fur seals that blanket the craggy rocks.

On your way back to Martinborough, Lord of the Rings fans may appreciate a visit to the Putangirua Pinnacles. A geological formation featured as a Middle Earth backdrop in The Return of the King, you can choose one of three walks to the site (2-3 hours).

Driving time: 4-5 hours

Day 8: Rimutaka Cycling Trail

Native bush opening up to Pakuratahi Valley

Today you will traverse the Rimutaka Cycling Trail, an adventurous biking experience through some of New Zealand's native bush. Beginning with Tunnel Gully, ride through the historic Maymorn Tunnel and lush green bush to Kaitoke. After a short stint on a public road, it’s back into the bush to follow an old railway route. From Ladle Bend Bridge the trail travels through plantation forestry to Summit, before you descend along the path of the historic Fell Locomotive Incline. With three railway tunnels on this section of the descent, including the 1,890 foot (576 m) Summit Tunnel, you'll want to have some form of light with you. Riders emerge from the ranges at Cross Creek, into the expanse of the Wairarapa.

Cycling distance (Maymorn to Cross Creek): 15.5 miles (25 km)
Cycling time: 3 hours (easy to intermediate)

Day 9: Explore Wellington

New Zealand - Central Wellington - view from Victoria
View of Central Wellington from Mount Victoria

This morning you'll drive to "Windy Wellington", your final destination. Set on the edge of a harbor and surrounded by rolling hills, Wellington is home to a competitive food scene with more cafés, bars, and restaurants per capita than New York. Settle into your hotel in Lambton Quay before venturing out on the city's historic red cable car for an overview of the city. Stop to dine in one of the many stellar restaurants for lunch and spend some time at New Zealand's national museum, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa—a world leader in interactive and visitor-focused museum experiences.

Day 10: Depart Wellington

New Zealand - Wellington The iconic Landmark architecture of Saint Gerards Catholic Church and Monastery of Mount Victoria
St. Gerard's Catholic Church and Monastery of Mount Victoria

Depending on your departure details, take advantage of what time you have left with another gastronomic experience before you return your rental car and say goodbye to Wellington and your North Island adventure.