Immerse yourself in spectacular beauty, rich Maori culture, and geothermal wonders with this 18-day journey around New Zealand's North Island. Begin the drive in vibrant Auckland before you chase scenery through the Waitakere Ranges, Coromandel Peninsula, and Bay of Islands. Then, venture to Lake Taupo and Rotorua, followed by relaxed coastal towns like Tauranga, Whakatane, and Raglan. Make your way back to Auckland for a sunset cruise to finish this epic road trip.


  • Start and end the trip in the exciting, world-class city of Auckland
  • Learn about Māori history, traditions, and culture with several activities
  • Feel the geothermal power of Rotorua's hot springs and geysers
  • Get out on the water with frequent boat trips and kayaking excursions

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Wētā Workshop, Free Time Auckland
Day 2 Auckland City Tour, All Blacks Rugby Experience Auckland
Day 3 Taste of Waiheke Island, Sky Tower Dinner Auckland
Day 4 Drive to Paihia, Explore the Bay of Islands & Cape Reinga Paihia
Day 5 Māori Waka Canoe Tour Paihia
Day 6 Bay of Islands Snorkel Tour, Hole in the Rock Cruise Paihia
Day 7 Drive to the Waitakere Ranges, Explore Waitakere Ranges
Day 8 Drive to Coromandel, Visit Hot Water Beach & Cathedral Cove Coromandel
Day 9 Cathedral Cove Cruise Coromandel
Day 10 Drive to Tauranga, Glowworm Evening Kayak Tour Tauranga
Day 11 Drive to Taupō, Visit the Mineral Hot Pools Taupō
Day 12 Kaituna White Water Rafting, Māori Rock Carving Cruise Taupō
Day 13 Morning Walk, Drive to Rotorua, Hell's Gate Experience Rotorua
Day 14 Explore Rotorua, Māori Heritage Tour, Evening Cultural Experience Rotorua
Day 15 Drive to Whakatane, Moutohora Island Sanctuary Tour Whakatane
Day 16 Drive to Raglan, Explore Raglan
Day 17 Drive to Auckland, Dinner Cruise Auckland
Day 18 Depart Auckland  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Wētā Workshop, Free Time

See the sights in Auckland today or relax after the long journey

Kia ora! Welcome to New Zealand's North Island! Begin your adventure in Auckland, where a driver will be waiting to transfer you to your hotel. Relax before heading out to explore the country's largest city. With two bustling harbors and more than 500,000 sailboats and yachts, it's easy to see why Auckland is nicknamed the "City of Sails."  For supreme views of Auckland, scale the 1,075-foot (328 m) Sky Tower with its dizzying observation deck, or make your way to Mount Eden, one of the city's 48 volcanic cones.

This afternoon you'll experience a world where the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred. Best known for their work on the "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, the Wētā Workshop is a five-time Academy Award-winning film effects company, and you can explore their creative process of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy filmmaking with a 90-minute tour. From here, stroll around the flower-filled Wintergardens and learn about the city's Polynesian and European roots at the Auckland Museum. For dinner, delve into Auckland's world-class dining scene and try local mussels and fresh oysters. 

Day 2: Auckland City Tour, All Blacks Rugby Experience

Get a taste of Auckland's thriving city center

Beautiful Auckland is surrounded by volcanoes and situated between two harbors, the sparkling Waitemata and the brooding Manukau. This morning, you'll discover history and sights and see how Aucklanders live and play. Travel up Queen Street, through Auckland's central business district, past Auckland University, and through Domain Park. Continue to the picturesque Ponsonby neighborhood before heading over the Harbour Bridge to Auckland's North Shore. Stroll on a beautiful white sand beach before climbing Mount Victoria for stunning panoramic views.

This afternoon you'll see if you have what it takes to be an All-Black. Experience the excitement and emotion of game day and discover the stories behind some of world rugby's most famous players, moments, and matches. This guided experience introduces you to the game of rugby before being led through state-of-the-art displays combining sound, images, interactive technology, and hands-on activities. Discover New Zealand's deep passion for its national sport, experience the full force of the All Blacks haka (ceremonial war dances), and tackle interactive zones.

Day 3: Taste of Waiheke Island, Sky Tower Dinner

Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island is known for its elegant Bordeaux-style wines made from cabernet sauvignon and merlot

Today, board a ferry from downtown Auckland and enjoy a pleasant cruise through the Hauraki Gulf to Waiheke Island, New Zealand's famous wine island. On arrival, your wine guide will meet you and whisk you to the first vineyard for a tasting and light lunch. Later, visit two more estates to taste local wines, plus a craft brewery and distillery, where you'll try an award-winning whiskey. When your tour ends, use the local bus to explore the island at your own pace before the return ferry to the city.

Head back to your accommodation and refresh ahead of the ultimate Auckland dinner. Tonight you'll be dining at the top of the Sky Tower at Orbit 360° Dining, a restaurant that rotates once every hour, giving you panoramic views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf. Enjoy a three-course set menu that makes the most of local and seasonal produce.

Day 4: Drive to Paihia, Explore the Bay of Islands & Cape Reinga

Your first destination on the road trip is the stunning Whangārei region

Pick up your rental car, grab a takeaway coffee, and head for the Bay of Islands. Plan for plenty of sightseeing along the 3.5-hour journey, including a stop at the historical township of Puhoi, or "Slow Water'" in Māori. Its vibrant, bohemian atmosphere is a remnant of former Czech immigrants. Subtropical Whangārei, New Zealand's most northern city, is a short drive away and is known as "the city with 100 beaches." Hike to the summit of Mount Parihaka, or take your time to explore the remains of the largest fortified village in New Zealand, Māori Pā.

The Bay of Islands features 140 subtropical atolls with untouched beaches, abundant marine life, and an idyllic climate. Spend time on a remote stretch of sand, or sign up for an ocean safari to spot dolphins. Go diving and descend to the 130-foot (40 m) Rainbow Warrior wreck, or wander Russell, a whaling port founded in 1843. Join a tour to Cape Reinga, the tip of the North Island, and discover a region rich in Māori tradition. You'll also skirt along the sand-swept shores of Ninety Mile Beach and visit massive sand dunes at Te Paki Stream.

Day 5: Māori Waka Canoe Tour

Taiamai Tours Te Hoenga Waka (Māori Waka Canoe Tour)
Learn traditional paddle techniques, waka maneuvers, and chants in a Māori waka canoe

Today's interactive waka (traditional Māori war canoe) experience provides a rare insight into the ancient customs and rituals of the Ngapuhi tribe. Meet with local Ngapuhi, who will share their ancient histories and legends with you as you paddle together aboard the 40-foot (12 m) Waka Taua on the Waitangi River. Learn traditional paddle techniques, waka maneuvers, chants, and haka (ceremonial war dances) while absorbing the breathtaking natural beauty of the Waitangi River ecosystems, native flora, and fauna.

The first leg of your voyage has your ornate waka gliding up the beautiful tidal estuaries of the Waitangi. Your Māori host will share tribal and family histories from an ancient past as you enjoy the splendor of panoramic views and the vibrant and stunning colors from the native forest stretching the length of the river banks and beyond. Soon you'll arrive at the pool of the sacred Haruru waterfalls and then a Marae (meeting ground) nestled on the riverbank. 

Day 6: Bay of Islands Snorkel Tour, Hole in the Rock Cruise

Bay of Islands Snorkel Tour
See what lies beneath the surface of the Bay of Islands

Discover Northland's magical underwater world with a memorable snorkeling trip this morning. At Deep Water Cove on the Cape Brett Peninsula, you can expect crystal-clear water with giant archways and abundant marine life to explore. Learn about the history and geology of the islands from your knowledgeable guides, and keep an eye out for bottlenose dolphins and whales.

Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
This afternoon join a scenic cruise along the Rakaumangamanga Peninsula to Cape Brett. Spot the historic lighthouse that keeps watch over the dual-named Motukōkako Island (Piercy Island), more popularly known as Hole in the Rock. This dramatic natural rock structure was named for its soaring 60-foot (18 m) arch formed by the erosion of the waves. According to Māori legend, local warriors paddled through the Hole in the Rock in canoes before departing for battle. Drops of water from the cave roof above were considered a good omen. 

Day 7: Drive to the Waitakere Ranges, Explore

The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park offers more than 155 miles (250 km) of walking trails

Today's 3.5-hour journey first travels west from the Bay of Islands, where you'll swap the Pacific Ocean for the Hokianga Region and the wilder seas of the Tasman. Stop for ice cream in Omapere and Opononi, then continue south into the Waipoua Forest, home to the massive Kauri trees. Allow time for a short walk, such as the five-minute loop that passes the largest of all the trees, Tane Mahuta. Continue south through rolling farmland and quaint Northland towns until you arrive at Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. Take in breathtaking views and over 40,000 acres (16,000 ha) of diverse native forest and coastline.

The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park—Auckland's Wild West—is where pristine bush, rich wildlife, and rugged black-sand beaches meet. It feels otherworldly, yet you're just 40 minutes from Auckland. Explore the Arataki Visitor Centre to learn about New Zealand's native plants and animals, then walk the 75-minute Arataki Nature Trail loop. Visit Piha Beach or Bethells Beach, stunning black-sand beaches with powerful surf. Near Piha Beach, find Kitekite Falls, a scenic three-tier, 131-foot (40 m) waterfall. Or venture to Fairy Falls, set within a native rainforest.

Day 8: Drive to Coromandel, Visit Hot Water Beach & Cathedral Cove

Coromandel Peninsula
Dig holes at Hot Water Beach, where geothermally heated water seeps through the sands

Skip past Auckland on your three-hour drive to the Coromandel Peninsula on the North Island's east coast. Enjoy the views of mountains and sea around the Firth of Thames as you make your way to this favorite holiday destination. Take a self-guided tour of the region that extends from Waihi in the south to Port Jackson in the north and features dramatic bush-clad mountain scenery, steep pohutukawa-covered cliffs, golden sandy beaches, and stunning inlets.

On the way to the peninsula, make a detour to Karangahake Gorge. The site of the original gold rush in 1875, this town is steeped in gold mining history, and you can seek out trails in the spectacular Waitawheta Gorge. Then, venture to Cathedral Cove, a stunning beach with a dramatic cave. There's a 90-minute walk from the northern end of Hahai Beach, or you can paddle there by kayak. Finally, end your explorations at the creatively named Hot Water Beach, where geothermally heated water seeps through the sands. At low tide, dig a hole and create your own mineral pool in the fine, golden sand.

Day 9: Cathedral Cove Cruise

Boat around the Coromandel Peninsula's beaches and caves

Today you'll cruise around the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula's volcanic coastline, exploring its many beaches and sea caves. Begin your journey at Whitianga Wharf, where you'll board a 28-foot (8.5 m) cruiser. Set off to explore Te Whanganui-a-Hei Marine Reserve, including its most prominent feature: the hidden paradise of Cathedral Cove. Next, travel past Shakespeare Cliff and the golden sands of Cooks Beach. Go on a snorkeling excursion in the marine reserve and spot many species of fish, crayfish, stingrays, and octopus. Or, stay dry and watch the vibrant underworld on a screen.

Day 10: Drive to Tauranga, Glowworm Evening Kayak Tour

Go on a glowworm cave tour by kayak
Take a memorable glowworm cave tour by kayak

Today you'll drive 2.5 hours south down the west coast of the peninsular to Tauranga. While the east coast has excellent golden sand beaches and inlets, the west coast has steep pohutukawa-clad cliffs. On the other side of the Firth of Thames is Miranda, a haven for shorebirds. Pass through the historic town of Paeroa, home of the nationally famous soft drink: Lemon and Paeroa (L&P). For rail enthusiasts, the Goldfields Railway operates passenger trains along a scenic and historic section of track toward Waikino.

Finally, you'll reach Tauranga's rich fruit-growing coastline and port town. Relax until your evening adventure begins: a kayak experience into caves filled with glowworms. Board your kayak before the sun sets and paddle out to the canyon. Here you'll wait for complete darkness when thousands of glowworms come out in full force, like a glistening constellation of stars scattered across the walls.

Day 11: Drive to Taupō, Visit the Mineral Hot Pools

Huka Falls
The thunderous and mighty Huka Falls in Wairakei near Lake Taupō

Today's two-hour journey to Taupō takes you to the heart of the North Island. Travel toward the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park to the small town of Matamata, famously known as the home of Hobbiton. You can pause for a guided tour of the Shire, visit the Green Dragon Inn, and immerse yourself in the fantasy world created by J.R.R. Tolkien. Then continue to Taupō via Roue 1. Pass Tirau, known for its unique corrugated iron sculptures, and consider stopping to hear the mind-blowing roar of the thunderous Huka Falls.

Finally, you'll reach Lake Taupō, New Zealand's largest lake with a volcanic caldera formed by a massive eruption 25,600 years ago. Taupō is the North Island's capital of outdoor activities—here, you can go bungee jumping, jet boating, skydiving, or take helicopter tours. Spend the afternoon at Taupō DeBretts Spa Resort, soaking in two naturally-fed mineral hot pools surrounded by tropical palms, waterfalls, and native birdlife. The mineral-rich contents and temperature of the volcanic spring water will relax muscles, purify the skin, increase blood circulation, and eliminate toxins.

Day 12: Kaituna White Water Rafting, Māori Rock Carving Cruise

The famous Mine Bay Maori rock carvings on Lake Taupō
Get close to the famous Māori rock carvings on a boat tour

The Kaituna River is home to the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world: the 23-foot (7m) Tutea Falls. This morning you'll join a whitewater rafting trip, passing through steep bush canyons and 13 awesome drops. Beyond a thrilling adrenaline rush, your guides will share a unique mix of history and culture to make this one memorable experience.

Relax in luxury bean bags on board a yacht as you enjoy a scenic sail across Lake Taupō to see 33-foot-high (10 m) Māori rock art, only accessible by boat. You're guaranteed fantastic photo opportunities as you experience one of life's postcard moments on this Māori tour. Glide across a smooth lake as you soak up the warming sun or go for a swim before you enjoy complimentary light refreshments at the rock carvings. If you're looking for more activity, you can help hoist the sails or take a turn at the wheel.

Day 13: Morning Walk, Drive to Rotorua, Hell's Gate Experience

Relax in the healing waters at Rotorua

Use this morning to explore Taupō and Tongariro National Park. From short 15-minute hikes to longer five-hour treks, there is something for every fitness level. Marvel at the impressive Taranaki Falls, birdwatch beside the crystal waters of Lake Rotopounamu, discover the golden Silica Rapids, or take an easy walk from Whakapapa Village for panoramic alpine views. When you're ready, make the hour-long drive to Rotorua, a wonderland of geothermal activity, complete with boiling mud pools, steaming geysers, and natural hot springs perfect for bathing and relaxing.

The otherworldly Hell's Gate geothermal spa is the perfect place to experience the natural powers of Rotorua. Join a guided or self-guided geothermal walk to explore the 50-acre (20 ha) park. Then soak in geothermal mud and acidic sulfur waters and experience the healing properties that local Māori have used for over 800 years. The warm mud will open and clear your pores before exfoliating your ski during a deeply cleansing sulfur spa treatment.

Day 14: Explore Rotorua, Māori Heritage Tour, Evening Cultural Experience

Check out Rotorua's geysers and mud pools
Rotorua's geysers and mud pools are an unmissable experience

Set within the Pacific Rim of Fire, there's no shortage of otherworldly activity in Rotorua, and today you'll explore geysers, bubbling mud holes, steaming vents, and sulfurous pools while learning how volcanic activity below ground creates this spectacular show above the surface. Fish for trout in local lakes and rivers, then learn about Māori culture. Pause to refresh ahead of this afternoon's unique experience at Mitai Māori Village

Your evening kicks off with a powhiri (Māori welcoming ceremony). Watch as Te Arawa people, a Māori iwi (tribe) who were the original inhabitants of the Rotorua Lakes region, paddle a waka down the Waiowhiro Stream. Then enjoy songs, beating drums, and haka war dances as the performers tell the great Māori migration story, including tales of Ohomairangi, the ancestral father to the Te Awara people. Enjoy a hāngī dinner where food is cooked in baskets over hot stones in a ground pit, along with fresh salads. Then embark on a guided bush walk and see glowworms.

Day 15: Drive to Whakatane, Moutohora Island Sanctuary Tour

View of Whale Island (Moutohora), Whakatane
Take an afternoon excursion to Moutohorā / Whale Island

Today's 1.5-hour journey to Whakatane takes you past Rotoiti, Rotoehu, and Rotana lakes. Make a short detour to Kawerau township and the famous Tarawera Falls. Here you can take a short forest walk to see a river reappearing from a cliff face after its journey underground. Whakatane boasts the highest number of sunshine hours in New Zealand, and combined with its golden beaches, it's a haven for beachgoers and surfers. It also claims to have one of the oldest Māori sites, dating back as far as 1150. In Whakatane, you can go deep-sea fishing, kayaking, and dolphin and whale watching.

This afternoon visit Moutohorā / Whale Island, a wild oasis home to many of New Zealand's rare and endangered plants, birds, and reptiles. On a guided tour, you'll learn about flora and fauna and the conservation efforts to preserve and protect this wonderland. The island is a bird lover's paradise, with the opportunity to see unique birds like kakariki/red-crowned parakeets, little brown kiwis, bellbirds, grey warblers, and many species of sea birds.

Day 16: Drive to Raglan, Explore

Explore Raglan
Find the perfect surf spot in Raglan

Wake up and hit the road with a three-hour drive—your final destination is Raglan, a laid-back coastal town known for its world-class surf breaks and creative community. Take Route 30 westward, then continue onto Route 33 toward the town of Paengaroa. Stop at the Comvita Visitor Centre to taste and learn about the benefits of Manuka honey. Then continue through the Waikato region, known for its lush green hills and picturesque farmlands. As you approach your destination, consider a detour to the Bridal Veil Falls, an impressive 180-foot (55 m) waterfall surrounded by native bush.

Finally, reach Raglan, where you'll find local art galleries, cafés, boutique shops, and iconic black sand beaches. Check out Ngarunui Beach and Manu Bay, where you can surf, swim, or simply relax by the water. Join a kayak or paddleboard tour to explore the beautiful limestone cliffs and native bush of the Raglan Harbour. Finish the day with a beer at the Raglan View Hotel, where you can often find live music in the summer months.

Day 17: Drive to Auckland, Dinner Cruise

View the skyline from the water after sunset
View the skyline after sunset as you cruise around the harbor

This morning you'll make a two-hour drive to finish the trip in Auckland. If you have time, stop at the vibrant city of Hamilton to explore the beautiful Hamilton Gardens and the Waikato Museum of Art and History. The museum boasts an impressive collection of Māori wood carvings—many recovered from local swamps and waterways. Then follow the Waikato River to get to Auckland. Use your afternoon to explore the vibrant and trendy boutiques and eateries found on Ponsonby and Parnell Roads, or rest up. 

There's no better way to spend your final night in New Zealand than on a sunset cruise. Set sail from Waitemata Harbour as the sun dips into the water. Enjoy drinks with canapés as you sail toward Westhaven Marina. Watch the city twinkle after the sun dips below the horizon and enjoy the main course. Finish the evening with a tasty dessert as you return to central Auckland's Viaduct Harbour.

Day 18: Depart Auckland

Take one more walk in Auckland before departure

Sadly, it's time to say goodbye to New Zealand. Squeeze in one more city walk before it's time to go. At the appointed time, drop off your rental car at the Auckland airport in time for your departing flight home. Safe travels!

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Map of New Zealand's Ultimate Self-Drive Tour in the North Island  - 18 Days
Map of New Zealand's Ultimate Self-Drive Tour in the North Island - 18 Days