This 10-day itinerary is the perfect match for adventurous families looking to experience the great outdoors of New Zealand's North Island. Starting in Auckland, you'll drive south to Wellington via Rotorua and Napier. Immerse yourself in nature along the way, experiencing native bush, bird, and animal life. Explore some of New Zealand's most intriguing land and cityscapes, including those of the imagination: a tour of the famous Weta Workshop will be a highlight for kids and adults alike.


  • Zip line through original native bush
  • Ride through Rotorua and the Lakes in an amphibious vehicle
  • Take a 4WD trip to a rare gannet colony nesting site
  • Be inspired by the creativity on display at the Weta Workshop

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Sky Tower Dinner Auckland
Day 2 Devonport, Muriwai Beach, America's Cup Sailing Tour Auckland
Day 3 Waiheke Island Explorer, EcoZip Adventure Auckland
Day 4 Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton Rotorua
Day 5 Footwhistle Glowworm Cave, Te Pa Tu Cultural Experience Rotorua
Day 6 Rotorua City & Lakes Duck Tour, Te Puia Springs & Māori Arts Rotorua
Day 7 Drive to Napier via Taupo, Lake Taupo Cruise, Gannet Safaris Napier
Day 8 Drive to Wellington, Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary Wellington
Day 9 Wellington Cable Car & Carter Observatory, Wētā Workshop  Wellington
Day 10 Depart Wellington  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Sky Tower Dinner

Auckland's skyline
Auckland's skyline

Welcome! Your New Zealand self-drive adventure begins today. Upon arrival, pick up your vehicle and head to Auckland. After a break at your accommodation, step outside to find plenty to explore. Take a stroll along one of the chic waterfront promenades, and you'll soon find out why it's known as the "City of Sails," or head out to one of the 26 regional parks. You and the kids can take your pick of excursions, whether surf beaches, an ancient volcano, or a native bush walk.

Once you've all worked up an appetite, head to the Sky Tower for the ultimate dinner with a view. The kids will love the novelty of dining at Orbit—with panoramic views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf, the restaurant slowly rotates a full 360 degrees during your dinner. Enjoy the seasonal and local produce, with meat and seafood dishes that highlight New Zealand's cuisine.

Day 2: Devonport, Muriwai Beach, America's Cup Sailing Tour

Muriwai Beach
Play in the tidepools at Muriwai Beach

This morning, take a ferry to Devonport and go on one of the tours there. With so much to see in just one hour, this trip is sure to keep the kids occupied. Stand on two volcanic cones, see historic Devonport villas, and photograph Auckland from its best angle. You will visit multiple Māori (fortified village) sites and learn about the network of military tunnels and forts which make up New Zealand's most significant coastal defense site. Whip the kids off to one of the beaches for a swim, or explore the tunnels with them if you like—you can always take a later tour back to the city.

In the afternoon, take a beach break and head out about 25 miles (40 km) northwest of Auckland to Muriwai Beach. This lengthy, black-sand coastline hosts a score of adventurous activities. Even the most adventurous kids will be satisfied here. Have a go at surfing, horse riding, land yachting, or paragliding, take a 4WD trip— or enjoy the more traditional picnic and a swim while you observe it all! 

Plan your trip to New Zealand
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Alternatively, stick around Auckland and take the rare opportunity to sail an America's Cup yacht. The Cup is the world's oldest sporting trophy and ultimate regatta, and the yacht exhibits the quality to match. With a professional crew to support you, you and the kids can take the helm, trim the grinders, or just sit back and enjoy sailing down Waitemata Harbour

Day 3: Waiheke Island Explorer, EcoZip Adventure

Waiheke Island
Take the kids exploring on Waiheke Island

This morning, take a 40-minute ferry ride over to Waiheke Island, then grab the Explorer Hop-on-Hop-off bus for the best tour of Waiheke's most famous landmarks. Browse the art galleries and craft boutiques, then take the kids to one of the island's paradisical beaches; Onetangi and Palm Beach are two of the best. Walk one of the island's beautiful walking trails, then stop for lunch at one of the many top-notch wineries.

Next, get ready for a memorable, eco-friendly adventure. With EcoZip Adventures, you and the family can glide 656 feet (200 m) beside each other down state-of-the-art dual-flying fox zip lines into stunning original and regenerating native bush. Nature lovers of all ages will enjoy this adrenaline hit, followed by the guided bush walk back to base, where you will learn about the local flora, fauna, and conservation efforts in the area. 

Day 4: Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton

A Hobbit hole in Matamata

For those of you with Tolkien aficionados in the family, there is a treat in store today. Begin with a leisurely drive through rural Waikato before heading inland toward Matamata, the real Middle-earth. Here you'll be able to take an escorted tour of locations made famous by "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit," as well as the actual set of Hobbiton. If you are true fans, stay a little longer for the evening banquet, including a hearty Hobbit dinner and an evening tour through The Shire by lamplight.

As you continue down to Rotorua, stop for a break at Tirau. The kids will want to take a selfie with the largest tin sheep and sheepdog! Have a look at the variety of different art, craft, and antique stores, then get back on the road. Once in Rotorua, there are many other kid-friendly activities, including fishing, 4WD trips, mountain biking, walking, and hiking, plus helicopter and float plane tours, or take some time out and relax in one of the geothermal spas.

Day 5: Footwhistle Glowworm Cave, Te Pa Tu Cultural Experience

Waitomo glowworm caves
The magical ceilings of the Waitomo glowworm caves

Entrancing for kids and adults alike, the Footwhistle Glowworm Cave (Te Anaroa) at Waitomo is well worth a visit. After a short bushwalk, you will enter a dimly-lit cave where you can appreciate the magnificence of the glowworm displays only inches away. Learn about the stunning cave formations and discover ancient moa bones before you take a seat in the stunning Footwhistle Cathedral, which will be briefly lit for you by a brilliant magnesium torch. Savor the moment with a complimentary kawakawa tea while you relax in a punga (tree fern) hut surrounded by native bush.

Later on, experience Māori culture at Te Pā Tū. The kids will be entranced by the stories, songs, and dance performances in the forest amphitheater. Your guide will then lead you by torchlight to your three-course hākari (feast). Select from a table of traditional hāngī dishes (meat, fish, and vegetables) and other local specialties. The themes change according to the maramataka (Māori lunar calendar), so ask your guide what might be on show for your evening's performance. 

Day 6: Rotorua City & Lakes Duck Tour, Te Puia Springs & Māori Arts

Kids will be captivated by the colorful sulfur pools

Get ready to take in the sights in a whole new way—in a World War II amphibious duck boat! Perfect for all age groups, you'll begin in the heart of Rotorua with a city tour, where you'll see the highlights and learn about the area's rich history and diversity in a humor-filled commentary. Your guide will also explain the history of the Duck itself. You'll then head out of town to take in magnificent views of Mount Tarawera and the Rotorua Lakes District before you "splash down" into the Tikitapu and Okareka lakes. 

Later, drive to Te Puia Springs, where the kids will be captivated by the otherworldly green and orange sulfur pools, bubbling mud baths, and spurting geysers. Stop off at the Kiwi Conservation Centre, a native bird refuge, and see New Zealand's national emblem, the kiwi, for yourselves. Move on to the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, where the kids can learn about carving and weaving techniques from the artists themselves. 

Day 7: Drive to Napier via Taupo, Lake Taupo Cruise, Gannet Safaris

Visit the National Aquarium

Drive to Taupō this morning, taking a short detour to view the mighty Huka Falls, which is guaranteed to impress. Take the family on a cruise of stunning Lake Taupō and view spectacular Māori rock carvings. Alternatively, you can take advantage of one of Taupō's many other kid-friendly adventures or pause at a café or restaurant for a bite to eat.

Next up, tackle the Napier-Taupō highway, which takes you over the Ahiminawa Range and down to Napier. Take some time to explore this sunny seaside city as you stroll through the world's finest collection of Art Deco architecture. The kids will love the interactive exhibits at the Faraday Museum of Technology or getting up close to marine life at the National Aquarium.

Later in the afternoon, swap your car for a guided 4WD trip to the world's largest gannet colony, high on Cape Kidnappers. The kids will love the exciting journey overland, crossing riverbeds, pastures, bush, gullies, and steep inclines, before halting at the colony site, where you will all enjoy stunning views and an up-close look at the nesting site of these striking birds.

Day 8: Drive to Wellington, Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary

Meet New Zealand's "living dinosaur," the tuatara

Today, drive through the rich farming landscape of Hawke's Bay, Manawatu, and the Wairarapa on your way to Wellington. Take a break at one or two of the many sights and towns you'll find on the way—get some fresh air at Pūkaha Wildlife Centre near Masterton, or stop for a winery lunch in Martinborough—before traveling over the Remutaka Range and along Wellington's magnificent natural harbor.

Wellington's compact center is easy to explore on foot, and there is plenty to see, do, buy or eat! Walk or drive to the top of Mount Victoria and see Wellington from the popular lookout, or take a waterfront stroll and then pop into New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa. Educational and interactive, the museum is popular with all age groups. 

Next, escape uphill to the serenity of Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary, a world-first predator-free home to many of the country's most unique and endangered animals. Take the option of a guided night tour, sure to be a hit with the kids. Armed with a flashlight (red, so as not to disturb the animals), see who can spot glowworms, ruru (native owls), tuatara, or even a kiwi or two!

Day 9: Wellington Cable Car & Carter Observatory, Wētā Workshop 

Wellington Cable Car
Take a scenic ride on the Wellington cable car 

Start your day bringing history to life with a ride on New Zealand's only remaining funicular railway, the Wellington Cable Car. Take a moment at the top to look at the original machinery housed in the museum before you take a two-minute walk to the Space Place at Carter Observatory. The kids will love the chance to explore the southern skies at the digital planetarium and examine astronomical artifacts up close. Finish the morning with a walk through the Botanic Gardens.

The afternoon takes you to the fabled Wētā Cave Workshop. You and the kids can look at real props, costumes, and displays from your favorite movies, including "The Hobbit," "The Lord of the Rings," and "Avatar." Peek into the workshop, and you'll see the artists at work. Hear from crew who have worked on the films, and marvel at the bigatures and miniatures for which the workshop is famous. 

Day 10: Depart Wellington

Wellington at dusk

Sadly, your trip comes to an end today. If you have time before your flight, why not take in a few more highlights? Walk one of Wellington's many scenic trails, or take a short drive to the Wellington Zoo. If you'd prefer indoor fun, try the Wellington Museum, which has great activities for kids. Afterward, drop your car off at the Wellington Airport depot in time for your onward flight. Safe travels! 

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Looking for more inspiration for your trip to New Zealand? Check out these other New Zealand itineraries, explore other ways to spend 10 family-friendly days in New Zealand, or discover the best time to visit New Zealand.


Map of North Island Active Family Road Trip: Auckland, Rotorua, Napier & Wellington - 10 Days
Map of North Island Active Family Road Trip: Auckland, Rotorua, Napier & Wellington - 10 Days