Experience the best of New Zealand's North Island on an exciting 11-day independent road trip. Start in Auckland, the country's largest and most famous city, known for its perfect marriage of cosmopolitan and natural offerings. Then, drive south to see volcanoes and geysers in Rotorua and Tongariro National Park. Enjoy a Maori feast and performance before continuing to the vineyards of Martinborough, the country's premier wine country. Finish the tour in the small but thrilling capital city, Wellington.


  • See the bioluminescent glowworms of Waitomo Caves
  • Learn about Maori culture in Rotorua
  • Hike around geothermal landscapes in Tongariro National Park
  • Go on a guided wine-tasting tour in Martinborough

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Explore Auckland
Day 2 Auckland Walking Tour, Taste of Waiheke Island Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Rotorua, Free Afternoon Rotorua
Day 4 Visit Thermal Parks, Te Pā Tū Māori Feast & Performance Rotorua
Day 5 Drive to Taupō, Self-Guided Tour of Taupō Taupō
Day 6 Explore Tongariro National Park Tongariro National Park
Day 7 Forgotten World Adventures, Lavender Farm Visit Tongariro National Park
Day 8 Drive to Martinborough, Guided Wine Tour Martinborough
Day 9 Drive to Wellington, Explore on Your Own Wellington
Day 10 Wellington Half Day Tour, Visit Te Papa Museum Wellington
Day 11 Depart Wellington  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Explore

Auckland's beautiful setting between the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean
Auckland waterfront at dusk

Welcome to Auckland. Upon arrival, collect your rental car and begin exploring this urban paradise. Set between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea; the city is a playground for adventure-seekers. The Sky Tower is an excellent place to begin exploring New Zealand's metropolis. You can enjoy impressive panoramic city views or head straight into thrills by bungee jumping off the tower.

Take a stroll around Waitemata Harbour. Roughly translating to "sparkling waters" in Māori, the harbor is a starting point for sailing, cruising, and whale watching excursions. As you walk around the harbor, be on the lookout for the orcas and bottlenose dolphins that regularly visit these waters. You can also visit the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park to see cetaceans and sea birds up close.

Day 2: Auckland Walking Tour, Taste of Waiheke Island

Sailing boats in Auckland's harbor

Head out early for a walking tour of Auckland's major sites. Start on Queen Street, which will take you through the central business district, then head past Auckland University and into Auckland Domain, a large park with sculptures, ponds, and the Auckland Museum. Cross Harbour Bridge to North Shore and sink your toes into one of the numerous white-sand beaches before going up Mount Victoria.

After resting, board a ferry for a pleasant cruise to Waiheke Island. On arrival, a driver will take you on a culinary tour. Hit up some of the island's best spots, including Stonyridge Vineyard, Casita Miro, and Heke Kitchen, Brewery and Distillery, home to New Zealand craft beer and award-winning whiskey. Your tour finishes with a wine tasting at the Mudbrick Vineyard, which boasts views of the Hauraki Gulf.

Day 3: Drive to Rotorua, Free Afternoon

Waitomo glow worm caves near Rotorua
Explore the living lights of glowworm caves near Rotorua

The drive south from Auckland takes you into Waikato's rolling farmland and rich dairy pastures, home to a vast network of caves. Travel deep underground, viewing stalactites and stalagmites before hopping on a boat and gliding silently through the glowworm grotto. Here, tiny insects that glow in the dark hang from the ceiling creating a galaxy of living lights.

After this otherworldly-type experience, continue driving to Rotorua. Use your free afternoon to explore this geothermal area, home to natural hot springs, boiling mud pools, and steaming geysers. Rotorua also has several prominent Māori tribes, and traditional villages welcome visitors. Alternatively, head up the Rotorua Gondola for soaring lake views, luge tracks, a zipline, and more. 

Day 4: Visit Thermal Parks, Te Pā Tū Māori Feast & Performance

Geyser in Rotorua's Waiotapu Thermal Park
Discover the steaming geysers in Rotorua's Wai-O-Tapu thermal park

Spend the day in Rotorua's most popular geothermal parks: Wai-O-Tapu and Waimangu Volcanic Valley. In Wai-o-Tapu, colorful hot springs offer yellow, indigo, and sea green swirls that contrast with the surrounding moonlike landscapes. In Waimangu Volcanic Valley, learn about the destructive Mount Tarawera eruption of 1886 and how it affected local life. You'll also see native flora and fauna.

At night, you'll be invited as a manuhiri (guest) to Te Pā Tū, a Māori Village, for a three-course feast and four-hour celebration of dancing, music, and storytelling. Food may be cooked with the traditional hāngī method, which uses heated rocks buried in a pit oven. The themes for the performances change according to the maramataka (Māori lunar calendar), but the forest amphitheater guarantees a unique experience.

Day 5: Drive to Taupō, Self-Guided Tour of Taupō

Lake Taupo
Count the long-extinct volcanoes surrounding Lake Taupō, the largest in New Zealand
Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Drive through the heart of the central North Island volcanic plateau to reach Taupō, a lively spot filled with bars, shops, and cafés. The town sits on Lake Taupō, New Zealand's largest lake, in a giant caldera formed following a massive eruption about 27,000 years ago. Cones of long-extinct volcanoes surround the area, relaying the region's fiery past.

Taupō is an excellent place to enjoy outdoor activities like bungee jumping, skydiving, trout fishing, kayaking, sailing, hiking, or horseback riding. You might also consider visiting Craters of the Moon, a thermal area north of town where you can wander along boardwalks and see hot water geysers, mud pools, and colorful sulfurous lakes. Or hop on a jet boat to see the towering Huka Falls up close. 

Day 6: Explore Tongariro National Park

Spend some time exploring Tongariri National Park
Explore the "unearthly" landscape of New Zealand's oldest national park, Tongariro National Park

Approximately an hour and 15 minutes from Taupō is Tongariro National Park, the oldest national park in New Zealand (and fourth oldest in the world!). Drive to this UNESCO site for a day in one of the country's most extreme and otherworldly landscapes. At the park's heart are three active volcanoes: Mount Tongariro, Mount Ruapehu, and Mount Ngauruhoe, all with a history of eruption. 

Despite the barren environment, the region abounds with flora and fauna. It's home to New Zealand's only native mammals, the short and long-tailed bats. Tongariro Crossing is a great daytime walk, taking six to eight hours and leading hikers past the Emerald and Blue lakes. Also lying within the park is Mount Ruapehu Ski Field, the largest ski area in the country.

Day 7: Forgotten World Adventures, Lavender Farm Visit

Rows of lavender at a farm in North Island
Feel like you're in Provence as you explore a lavender farm

Prepare for a wildly fun day at the Forgotten World Adventures depot. Bringing people to the heart of New Zealand's countryside, this attraction offers thrilling guided tours on unused tracks and tunnels or by jet boat along the Whanganui River. Either way, you'll enjoy stunning hill-country farms and native bush in central North Island, a part of the country that is often overlooked.

On your return journey, stop for a visit at Lauren's Lavender Farm. During the right season, you'll get to breathe in the relaxing aromas of the lavender fields and take in the surreal views of the flowers turning the world purple. But even if you visit out of season, you can learn about this popular crop or browse the gift shop for high-quality lavender products to take home as gifts or souvenirs. 

Day 8: Drive to Martinborough, Guided Wine Tour

Wander Martinborough's downtown before setting off on a wine tour

This morning, a long drive awaits you as you make the four-hour journey to Martinborough, a charming village nestled among 35 vineyards. Take some time to walk around town, stopping for lunch at one of the many delicious mom-and-pop restaurants. You can also visit Putangirua Pinnacles, a spectacular geological formation featured as the Dead Marshes in "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."

Oenophiles will be happy to start a half-day guided tour of Martinborough's wine scene, often compared to Burgundy, France, because of its soil and climate. Stop at Te Kairangi Wines, Tirohana Estate, Cabbage Tree Vineyard, and Martinborough Vineyard to learn about (and taste!) some of the best wines in the region, including notable pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, and syrah, to name a few. 

Day 9: Drive to Wellington, Explore

The Wellington Cable Car funicular
Board the iconic Wellington Cable Car funicular

Travel the scenic route west from Martinborough to Wellington while passing through the imposing Remutaka Range. After arriving in the capital, head out to explore this compact city that retains the sophistication of a bigger cosmopolis. Take a ride up the Wellington Cable Car to the Wellington Botanic Garden and the Carter Observatory. And don't neglect to spend time appreciating the fantastic views.

While still up the hill, explore Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne, a world-first eco-sanctuary where you can meet some of New Zealand's most captivating and endangered fauna. Watch for rare endemic species like the tuatara, a prehistoric reptile, or the over 150 kiwi birds that reside here. Afterward, take a cycling tour of Oriental Bay to end the day at one of the area's popular beaches. 

Day 10: Wellington Half Day Tour, Visit Te Papa Museum

The Beehive government building in Wellington
The Beehive government building in Wellington

Take a small group tour of Wellington, passing by Courtenay Place and Oriental Parade, then heading up to Mount Victoria, another excellent lookout point. Continue along the city's rugged coastline, now a marine reserve, stopping to sample some of that famous Wellington coffee. Return to the city center to pass through the quirky Cuba Street district and Lambton Quay, the main shopping street.

You'll likely want to spend a few hours at New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa, which means "container of treasures" in the Māori language. This six-floor modern space offers an overview of the country's art, history, and natural wonders. Exhibits include Māori artifacts, 17th-century English furniture, and a colossal squid collection.

Day 11: Depart Wellington

Panoramic view of Wellington at night
Panoramic view of Wellington at night

Take your rental car to Wellington Airport. Then, prepare for your departure flight back home. 

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 11 days in New Zealand, or discover the best time to visit New Zealand.


Map of New Zealand North Island Self-Drive Tour: Auckland to Wellington - 11 Days
Map of New Zealand North Island Self-Drive Tour: Auckland to Wellington - 11 Days