Explore the beauty of New Zealand's North Island, from the foodie's haven of Wellington to stunning Tongariro National Park. This seven-day tour starts in Wellington and ends in Auckland, with a variety of local activities including hiking, visiting Lord of the Rings' filming locations, touring wine country, and spotting local wildlife.

Highlights

  • Count the fur seals from atop Cape Palliser's lighthouse
  • Trek past still-active volcanoes and boiling mud on Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail 
  • Feel like a hobbit of Middle-Earth as you tour The Shire
  • Discover the colorful geothermal waters of Wai-O-Tapu

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Wellington Wellington
Day 2 Martinborough, Cape Palliser and Putangirua Pinnacles Martinborough
Day 3 Hike Tongariro National Park Tongariro region
Day 4 Fly over Tongariro National Park Tongariro region
Day 5 Visit Matamata and The Shire Rotorua
Day 6 Explore Rotorua and Wai-O-Tapu Auckland
Day 7 Depart Auckland  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Wellington

Wellington New Zealand - twilight over Wellington Harbour
Twilight over Wellington Harbour

Welcome to Wellington! Set on the edge of a stunning 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. Take a stroll to familiarize yourself with the capital, stopping to dine in one of the many stellar restaurants. If there's time, visit New Zealand's national museum, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa—a world leader in interactive and visitor-focused museum experiences. If you have one museum to visit in New Zealand, let it be this one.

Day 2: Martinborough, Cape Palliser and Putangirua Pinnacles

Lighthouse on Cape Palliser, New Zealand
Cape Palliser's lighthouse

This morning you will drive inland to the friendly village of Martinborough for a taste of country life. Just over an hour from the capital, Martinborough is surrounded by 35 vineyards, among them are Palliser Estate, Tirohana, and Ata Rangi. Enjoy an early lunch with a glass of wine or join one of the many wine tours available. Next, drive an hour to Cape Palliser to see the southernmost lighthouse—as well as the very popular fur seals—on the North Island. Stretch your legs and climb up the 250 steps to the top of the lighthouse for a panoramic view of Palliser Bay, the Pacific Ocean, and the craggy rocks below.

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).

Return to your accommodation in Martinborough.

Day 3: Hike Tongariro National Park

Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Tongariro Alpine Crossing

This morning you will drive along the coast to New Zealand's oldest national park, Tongariro National Park. Recognized by UNESCO as one of 28 World Heritage Sites classed as such for their cultural and natural significance, Tongariro has three sleeping volcanoes, Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngauruhoe.

There are several adventurous activities you can choose from. 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. There's also the option to take a half-day to raft Grade Three rapids of the Tongariro River—ideal for both expert and first-time rafters and a unique vantage point to see the untouched nature of your surroundings.

Day 4: Fly over Tongariro National Park

Mount Ngauruhoe and the Rangipo Desert, Tongariro National Park
Mount Ngauruhoe and the Rangipo Desert

Enjoy your second day of trekking through Tongariro National Park. There's the option to take a scenic flight over the park for all-encompassing views of the landscape, craters, boiling mud pools, lakes, and mountains.

Day 5: Visit Matamata and The Shire

A view of the fictional Hobbiton
A view of the fictional Hobbiton

This morning you will drive the few hours north to the sulfuric-smelling Rotorua. Settle into your accommodation before continuing the hour further north to Matamata, the bucolic setting for "The Shire" featured in the Peter Jackson directed films, The Lord of the Rings. 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.

Return to Rotorua in the afternoon.

Day 6: Explore Rotorua and Wai-O-Tapu

Thermal waters of Wai-O-Tapu
Thermal waters of Wai-O-Tapu

Take the morning to explore Rotorua and drive the short distance to Wai-O-Tapu. Sculpted out of thousands of years of volcanic activity, Wai-O-Tapu is considered to be New Zealand’s most colorful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attraction. You are introduced to a uniquely different natural landscape—the key to what you see lies below the surface for one of the most extensive geothermal systems in the country.

In the early afternoon, you will drive the three to four hours north to the "Big Little City" of Auckland. Settle into your accommodation before you head out on foot 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 restaurant and bars to enjoy an evening meal, before venturing to check out the harbor.

Day 7: Depart Auckland

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

Depending on when you need to be at the airport, take the morning to explore a little more of Auckland. Start at Mount Eden, for a nice overview of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, before heading to explore the trendy Ponsonby Road and Ponsonby Central—a Kiwi favorite on the weekends. Or if you prefer, take the morning to visit 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.