From Auckland to Taupo, this 6-day itinerary presents the highlights of the North Island's diverse and dramatic landscapes. You'll trek amid emerald lakes and ancient volcanoes, explore The Shire from Lord of the Rings, and discover the sacred thermal waters of Wai-O-Tapu.

Highlights

  • Hike up Mount Eden in Auckland for a sunset over the cityscape
  • Feel like a giant in Matamata's Lord of the Rings' set of Hobbiton
  • Discover hot waterfalls, bubbling mud, and steaming vents in Rotorua
  • Hike in Tongariro National Park and meet three active volcanoes

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland Auckland
Day 2 Explore Hobbiton in Matamata; Rotorua Rotorua
Day 3 Hell's Gate, Buried Village, and Whakarewarewa Forest  Rotorua
Day 4 Taupo: waterfalls, prawns, and Craters of the Moon Tongariro region
Day 5 Hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing Tongariro region
Day 6 Return to Auckland; Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

Cityscape image of Auckland skyline, New Zealand taken from Mt. Eden at sunset.
View of Auckland at sunset from Mount Eden

Welcome to the "Big Little City" of Auckland! Settle into your accommodation before taking the rest of the day to explore New Zealand's largest city. Start at Mount Eden, for a nice overview of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea to get your bearings. Next, explore the trendy Ponsonby Road for high-end shopping or a good restaurant, or go to Ponsonby Central directly—a Kiwi favorite on the weekends. Art enthusiasts may appreciate a visit to New Zealand's oldest neighborhood, Parnell, to discover its galleries and cafés, before hopping on a 50-year old restored tram to ride through the Wynyard Quarter.

Days 2: Explore Hobbiton in Matamata - Rotorua

New Zealand - Matamata - Hobbiton movie set created for filming The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies in North Island
Close up of a hobbit's home in fictional Hobbiton 

Leave Auckland behind and drive south for a couple of hours to Rotorua. Stop along the way to explore Matamata, the bucolic setting for "The Shire" featured in Peter Jackson's, The Lord of the Rings films. Meet your guide and begin the two-hour tour to learn how the Waikato farmland was transformed into the Shire. Drive through the 1,250-acre sheep farm with spectacular views across to the Kaimai Ranges. Your guide will then escort you through the ten-acre site recounting fascinating details of how the Hobbiton set was created.

Continue the short distance to the geothermal city of Rotorua. Settle into your accommodation before taking the rest of the day to explore your surroundings. For a short film on Rotorua's history that includes the dramatic story of the Mount Tarawera eruption in June 1886, visit the Rotorua Museum  In the evening, spend some time at the Mitai Maori Village for an authentic introduction to Maori culture, before checking out the glow worms in their natural habitat as well as protected kiwis in Rainbow Springs Nature Park.

Days 3: Hell's Gate, Buried Village, and Whakarewarewa Forest 

Steam rises from the geothermal pools at Hell's Gate with trees, rolling hils and a green landscape in the space beyond
Steam rises from the geothermal pools at Hell's Gate

This morning drive around Lake Rotorua to Hells Gate Geothermal Park for an up-close experience of Rotorua's geothermal activity, including erupting geysers, steaming fumaroles (vents), mud pools, and hot geothermal springs, as well as discover the largest hot waterfall in the southern hemisphere, Kakahi Falls. From there, visit the Buried Village of Te Wairoa for insight into the chaos that occurred on the night Mount Tarawera erupted. Continue a little further south to Wai-O-Tapu for a colorful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attraction.

Afterward, visit either Kerosene Creek or Waikite Valley Thermal Pools for a soothing soak in the thermal waters, before drying off and returning to Rotorua. Stop just outside of Rotorua at Whakarewarewa Forest to explore the park and its amazing otherworldly ferns and redwoods.

Days 4: Taupo: waterfalls, prawns, and Craters of the Moon

Huka Falls, Taupo, New Zealand
Huka Falls near Taupo

Today you will continue your journey south to Taupo. Offering something for every interest, start with a visit to the country's most popular natural attraction, Huka Falls. From there, visit Wairakei Terraces to discover how the Maori used to live in this geothermal wonderland. Next, meet Shawn the Prawn in Huka Prawn Park to learn about the prawn's lifecycle. You'll hand feed baby prawns, fish for them, and if you're a seafood lover, feast on fresh ones. Stop for another great photo opportunity of boiling mud pools and steaming vents at Craters of the Moon.

Upon your return to Taupo, you may like to take a cruise of Lake Taupo, relax on the beach at Acacia Bay, visit the Rose Gardens, or rent some equipment to go trout fishing.

Day 5: Hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing

View at beautiful sunrise over Emerald lakes on Tongariro Crossing track, Tongariro National Park, New Zealand
Sunrise over the Emerald lakes on Tongariro Alpine Crossing

This morning you will drive south along Lake Taupo to New Zealand's oldest (and the world's fourth oldest) national park, Tongariro National Park. Recognized by UNESCO as one of 28 World Heritage Sites, Tongariro has three sleeping volcanoes, Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe. Stop at the Volcanic Activity Centre on your way into the park to learn about the volcanoes and geothermal zones through interactive and educational displays.

Trampers may appreciate a 12-mile (19.4 km) hike of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing that takes you between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe ("Mount Doom" in Lord of the Rings). If the distance is daunting, there are alternative routes from 30 minutes to nine hours. 

Day 6: Return to Auckland - Depart

Auckland, New Zealand
View over Auckland

This morning you will return to Auckland for your flight home (5 hours). If there's time before your departure, complete any last minute souvenir shopping or visit the Modern Art Museum next to Albert Park.