- Go sightseeing in Auckland and hop on a ferry to tour Waiheke Island's wineries
- Soak in your own natural hot tub on the Coromandel Peninsula's Hot Water Beach
- Paddle a sea kayak through a dazzling glowworm cave in Tauranga
- Meet New Zealand's famous kiwi bird at a sanctuary in Rotorua
- Learn about Maori culture and history at Wellington's Te Papa National Museum
|Arrive in Auckland, Free Time
|Visit the Sky Tower & Historic Devonport
|Waiheke Island Day Trip
|Drive to the Coromandel Peninsula, Visit Cathedral Cove & Hahai Beach
|Visit Hot Water Beach & Karangahake Gorge
|Drive to Tauranga, Glowworm Cave Kayaking Excursion
|Free Day in Tauranga: Waterfalls, Beaches & Dolphin Watching
|Drive to Rotorua, Tour Wai-O-Tapu, Buried Village & Hell's Gate
|Visit the National Kiwi Hatchery & the Agrodome
|Skyline Gondola & Polynesian Spa
|Drive to Mairenui Farmstay, Free Time
|Drive to Wellington, Te Papa National Museum & the Beehive
|City to Sea Walkway, Cable Car & Botanic Gardens
|Fly to Auckland, Depart
Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Free Time
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." Get your bearings with a stroll around Wynyard Quarter, a newer area with a daily fish market—try the huge mussels or the famous oysters—then check out one of the restored tramways and go for a ride.
Venture up Mount Eden, the highest point of the city at 645 feet (197 m), for views over both the Pacific Ocean, the Tasman Sea, and all of the volcanic cones that make up Auckland. Later, you might like to visit the Britomart neighborhood, known for its bars, restaurants, designer shops, and a little local market open on Saturdays.
Day 2: Visit the Sky Tower & Historic Devonport
Today is yours to explore more of Auckland at your leisure. You could start the day at the iconic Sky Tower. At 1,076 feet (328 m) high, it's the tallest human-made structure in New Zealand and offers breathtaking views for up to 50 miles (80 km) in every direction. Travel up in the glass-fronted elevators to one of the three spectacular viewing platforms. For more thrills and excitement, SkyWalk around the outside of the pergola, which is 630 feet (192 m) up, or do the SkyJump off the tower.
In the afternoon, make your way to the historic seaside village of Devonport for a taste of its charming and relaxed atmosphere. Stroll around the village at your leisure and visit some of its attractions, including the many art galleries, historic points of interest, and lookouts. Back in the city, tick off any sights you missed yesterday—you might like to see them from the water while sailing on the inner Waitemata Harbour.
Day 3: Waiheke Island Day Trip
Today, board a ferry from downtown Auckland and enjoy a 40-minute cruise through the Hauraki Gulf to Waiheke Island, New Zealand's famous wine island. With hot, dry summers and stony soils, it boasts the perfect conditions for high-quality wines, and its award-winning boutique wineries produce cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc, and more recently, chardonnay. You'll find vineyards, wineries, and olive groves spread across the island, and many, such as Stonyridge, Passage Rock, Mudbrick Vineyard, and Te Motu Vineyard, offer tastings.
Waiheke Island has a Hop-On Hop-Off Explorer Bus, so you can work your way around the island at your own pace. Choose to stay on for a scenic 90-minute loop tour of the island or hop off at any of the 16 stops to explore vineyards, restaurants, shops, art galleries, beaches, and nature walks. Here, you'll find everything from rugged, bush-clad bays to white-sand beaches, and a large population of writers, poets, and artists make this island a creative place, too. Visit the Waiheke Community Art Gallery to see works by local, national, and international artists and shop reasonably priced art and gifts.
Day 4: Drive to the Coromandel Peninsula, Visit Cathedral Cove & Hahai Beach
Pick up a rental car this morning and say farewell to the "City of Sails." You'll travel south along the Seabird Coast, taking around three hours to reach the Coromandel Peninsula on the 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 secluded inlets.
Venture to Cathedral Cove, a popular 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. Make a stop at Whangapoua and New Chums Beach, too, known as one of the top-rated beaches in the world. Despite its reputation, this locale is still considered a not-to-be-missed hidden gem. Enjoy the evening at your leisure, and prepare for more exploration tomorrow.
Day 5: Visit Hot Water Beach & Karangahake Gorge
Today, make your way to Hot Water Beach, where geothermally heated water seeps through the sands. There are two fissures at Hot Water Beach, issuing water as hot as 147°F (64°C) at up to four gallons per minute. This water contains large amounts of salts—calcium, magnesium, potassium, fluorine, bromine, and silica. Bring your bathing suit if you'd like to take a dip along the way. At low tide, dig a hole and create your own mineral pool in the fine, golden sand. It's also nice here at night, under the stars, if the tide is right.
In addition, plan a stop at Karangahake Gorge, which is located between Paeroa and Waihi. The site of the original gold rush in 1875 and steeped in gold mining history, it's now a more peaceful location, offering visitors a perfect place to explore. Follow the old railway formation and walk the popular Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway alongside the sparkling Ohinemuri River. Seek out the gold trails in the spectacular Waitawheta Gorge, as well.
Day 6: Drive to Tauranga, Glowworm Cave Kayaking Excursion
Jump back behind the wheel this morning and make your way 2.5 hours south to Tauranga, the largest city in the Bay of Plenty and one of the fastest-growing population centers in the country. Begin the fun at Mount Maunganui, also known as "The Mount," which is the colloquial name for the relaxed beach town that occupies a peninsula at the southern end of Tauranga Harbour. The peninsula is actually a huge sandbar, with a sheltered bay on the inner harbor side and a magnificent surf beach on the ocean side.
At the very tip of the peninsula is a dormant volcano, Mauao, which rises to 755 feet (230 m) above sea level and offers several trails. Huge views of the harbor, beach, and the Pacific Ocean make the rugged climb worthwhile. Later, embark on an evening glowworm kayaking tour, entering a cave where these bioluminescent creatures illuminate the soaring ceilings. Your paddling adventure includes refreshments, beautiful scenery, fantastic birdlife, and, of course, plenty of dazzling glowworms.
Day 7: Free Day in Tauranga: Waterfalls, Beaches & Dolphin Watching
Enjoy a slow day in Tauranga, exploring as you please. Take a stroll around the downtown area, where you'll find plenty of historic gems, then head to the waterfront area known as The Strand, filled with a modern buzz and cafés, restaurants, pubs, and nightclubs. For an adventure on land, you could seek out McLaren Falls or the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park.
Or pop down to the Tauranga Harbour to jet out into the ocean aboard a dolphin-watching cruise, fishing charter, or kayaking adventure. Here, you can actually even swim with dolphins! Return to town in the evening for a relaxed night before you hit the road again in the morning.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Day 8: Drive to Rotorua, Tour Wai-O-Tapu, Buried Village & Hell's Gate
New Zealand is located on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," where the tectonic plates are always moving. Nowhere is this more evident than in Rotorua, where the constant geothermal activity includes erupting geysers, steaming fumaroles (vents), mud pools, and hot geothermal springs. Today, make the one-hour drive south to Rotorua, and brace yourself—it's going to smell like sulfur!
Stop first at Wai-O-Tapu, considered to be New Zealand's most colorful and diverse geothermal attraction. Afterward, continue to the Buried Village, an excavated village showing firsthand insight into the chaos and mayhem that transpired on the night Mount Tarawera erupted.
Finally, visit the Hell's Gate Geothermal Park and join a guided or self-guided walk to explore the 50 acres (20 ha). Follow the footsteps of ancient Māori warriors through the swirling clouds of steam, past the hot pool where the Māori princess Hurutini lost her life, and see the violent geothermal activity of the Inferno and the Kakahi Falls, the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. After, soak in geothermal mud and acidic sulfur waters to experience the healing properties that Māori have used for over 800 years. The warm mud will open and clear your pores.
Day 9: Visit the National Kiwi Hatchery & the Agrodome
Today, you'll visit the National Kiwi Hatchery, a place dedicated to saving the kiwi bird, New Zealand's national symbol, from extinction. The facility works hard to raise and release kiwis back into the wild. You can take a behind-the-scenes tour to see the working nursery and hatchery where kiwi are raised as part of Operation Nest Egg. Eggs are brought from the wild, and when they've hatched, and the kiwis are large enough to protect themselves from predators, they're released back into the wild.
After, head to the Agrodome, which connects you with New Zealand farm life. If you want to experience life on the 350-acre (142 ha) working farm, you can join a tour to hand-feed animals. Otherwise, the world-famous Farm Show is a must-do, and you'll gain insight into the world of New Zealand agriculture, featuring 19 sheep breeds, sheep shearing, cow milking, lamb feeding, and dog demonstrations.
Day 10: Skyline Gondola Ride & Polynesian Spa
This morning, you'll ride the Skyline Gondola, which is the best way to experience 180-degree views of Lake Rotorua, the city, and the surrounding district. Enjoy a memorable lunch experience at the top, then take your pick of thrilling adventures. Ride the Skyline Luge, a fun-packed, gravity-fueled ride, or choose to go mountain biking, take the Zoom Zipline, or strap into the Skyswing.
Later, experience Rotorua's geothermal features in a relaxing way as you unwind at the Polynesian Spa on the shores of Lake Rotorua. The spa's main attraction is its four alkaline rock pools, each with different temperatures ranging from 96.8°F to 107.6°F (36°C to 42°C). While soaking in the warm waters, you can enjoy views of the lake, native plants, wildlife, and a nearby grotto.
Day 11: Drive to Mairenui Farmstay, Free Time
Make your way toward the scenic hill country of the Rangitikei District, a three-hour drive south, where you'll enjoy an overnight stay at Mairenui Farmstay. Here, you'll have the chance to immerse yourself in authentic New Zealand farm life with the Sweet family, who has worked the land here for more than 100 years. Your stay will allow you to rest and relax in this peaceful rural spot, as well as partake in a farm visit with a family member.
On the relaxed estate, you'll find a pétanque pitch and tennis court, and you can also swim in the nearby river or fish for native trout. Use your time here to relax and soak up nature, or if you can't sit still, it's possible to organize scenic rafting, kayaking, and horseback excursions nearby.
Day 12: Drive to Wellington, Te Papa National Museum & the Beehive
There's another epic three-hour drive ahead today as you make your way into Wellington, New Zealand's capital. Set on the edge of a stunning harbor and surrounded by rolling hills, Wellington is known as the city with the most cafés and bars per person, alongside New York. Start with a visit to Te Papa National Museum, a bold and innovative museum where you'll learn about native geology and the natural environment. Hear the stories of New Zealand's Indigenous people, the Māori, who are celebrated in Te Papa's permanent exhibitions.
Next, stroll to the Beehive, Parliament House, and Parliamentary Library. The Beehive is the now-iconic executive wing of the Parliament House that was built in the 1970s. Parliament House itself was finished in the 1920s and is where New Zealand's parliament meets. The Parliamentary Library (circa 1899) is a photo-worthy pit stop, too. If you have time, stop by the fascinating Wētā Workshop, home to props and costumes from big-name movies like "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
Day 13: City to Sea Walkway, Cable Car & Botanic Gardens
Rise and shine, ready to explore Wellington in-depth today. Start with the City to Sea Walkway, a rich and varied walk from one end of the small and compact city into the surrounding suburbs and hills, and then to the rocky shores of the south coast. The journey should take the whole morning and sports wonderful views of Cook Strait and Kaikōura Ranges.
Later, take in panoramic views of the city from the top of the Mount Victoria Lookout and watch as the Interislander ferry sails into the harbor and the planes fly in and out of the airport. One of Wellington's most popular tourist attractions is the cable car ride, which runs from Lambton Quay, in the commercial heart of the city, tunnels under the corporate towers of The Terrace, and emerges in Kelburn. Today you should also visit the Botanic Gardens, which is a great place for a scenic walk, as well as a picnic lunch. When evening falls, enjoy dinner with a harborside view as the sun sets on your New Zealand adventure.
Day 14: Fly to Auckland, Depart
Your epic adventure across New Zealand's North Island comes to an end today. When the time is right, return the rental car and catch your connecting flight to Auckland for your long-haul flight onward or home. Safe travels!
More Great New Zealand Itineraries