Perfect for nature lovers and thrill-seekers, this 11-day, self-drive itinerary lets you discover the wonders of New Zealand's North Island at your own pace. Start in Auckland for panoramic views from the top of the Sky Tower, then head to the Bay of Islands to learn about Maori culture and relax on its many beaches. Explore geothermal geysers and ancient forests in Rotorua, go wine tasting and gannet spotting around Napier, then step into the world of film with a visit to Wellington's Weta Workshop.


  • Dip your toes in the clear water and whites sands of the Bay of Islands
  • Visit the many geothermal wonders of Rotorua and take a forest canopy tour
  • Taste some of New Zealand's best reds on a Hawke's Bay wine tour
  • Learn about history, film, and design at Wellington's Weta Cave Workshop

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland Auckland
Day 2 Free Day in Auckland Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Paihia, Hole in the Rock Cruise Paihia
Day 4 Discover the Bay of Islands & Township of Russell Paihia
Day 5 Drive Back to Auckland, Visit the Sky Tower Auckland
Day 6 Drive to Rotorua, Forest Canopy Tour Rotorua
Day 7 Explore Rotorua's Geothermal Wonders Rotorua
Day 8 Drive to Napier, Half-Day Hawke's Bay Wine Tour Napier
Day 9 Take a Gannet Safari at Cape Kidnappers Napier
Day 10 Drive to Wellington, Weta Cave Workshop Tour & Miniature Effects Tour Wellington
Day 11 Depart Wellington  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland

View across Auckland Harbour

Welcome to New Zealand! Upon arrival at Auckland Airport, your driver will take you to your hotel. Get settled in, then spend the rest of the day stretching your legs and getting your bearings in the "City of Sails." An urban paradise between the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, Auckland is a playground for city lovers and adventure-seekers. Head up the iconic Sky Tower for panoramic city views, or take a stroll around Waitemata Harbor to appreciate more of the North Island city's scenery.

Roughly translated to "sparkling waters" in Māori, the harbor is a starting point for sailing, cruising, and whale watching excursions. Keep a close for the orcas and bottlenose dolphins that regularly visit the waters close to the city, or visit the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park to get a closer look at whales, dolphins, and sea birds. 

Day 2: Free Day in Auckland

Waiheke Island
Turquoise waters at Waiheke Island

Perched on the edge of a large natural harbor, Auckland offers the best of both worlds. Sandy beaches, native bush, and lush rainforests give way to a vibrant urban culture, humming with life. Take a free day to enjoy its many wonders at your own pace. Visit Viaduct Harbour, where you can try your hand at sailing an America's Cup yacht or take the ferry to nearby Waiheke Island for a gourmet food and wine experience in one of the world's most exclusive wine-growing regions.

Walk to the top of Auckland's highest volcano, Mount Eden, and take in soaring views of the gulf. Pack a picnic lunch and lose yourself in one of the 800 regional national parks on offer, or grab a book and relax on a deserted beach. Scale the outermost perimeter of the Harbour Bridge, or test your stomach and bungee jump off. End your day at Ponsonby Road, known for its many restaurants, bars, and boutiques, where you can enjoy dinner and explore local art galleries, up-market shops, and nightclubs.

Day 3: Drive to Paihia, Hole in the Rock Cruise

Hole in the Rock has a special significance to the Māori people

Pick up your rental car today and hit the road, driving north toward the Bay of Islands. Plan for sightseeing along the way, 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, and it offers an interesting insight into New Zealand's cross-cultural history. Feeling active? Hike to the summit of Mount Parihaka, the highest point in the city and a popular destination for its panoramic views. Or, explore the remains of the largest fortified village in New Zealand, Māori Pā.

Get settled into your base for the next two nights in the small town of Paihia, then head to the harbor to board a scenic cruise gliding along the Rakaumangamanga Peninsula to Cape Brett. Along the way, you'll spot the historic lighthouse that keeps watch over Motukōkako Island (Piercy Island) and the distinctive rock formation known as Hole in the Rock, named for its soaring 60-foot (18 m) arch formed by the erosion of the waves. Keep your camera close—along with sea views might spot bottlenose dolphins, whales, and other marine life among the waves.
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Day 4: Discover the Bay of Islands & Township of Russell

Find a stretch of beach and spend a free day in the Bay of Islands

Consisting of over 140 subtropical atolls and renowned for its abundant marine life and idyllic climate, New Zealand's Bay of Islands will tick all your tropical holiday boxes. Spend your free time today lounging on a remote stretch of beach or board an ocean safari for dolphin watching. For an underwater adventure, join a diving excursion and descent to the Rainbow Warrior, the Greenpeace flagship sunk by French saboteurs in 1985.

A short ferry ride from Paihia, you'll find the once-bustling whaling port of Russell. Hop over to nearby Okiato to explore its original streets steeped in history as the country's first seaport, its first European settlement, and first capital. Fans of fishing should make sure to stop at the Bay of Islands Swordfish Club to learn about game fishing culture at the oldest fishing club in the country, where the world's largest striped marlin was caught using a rod and reel.

Day 5: Drive Back to Auckland, Visit the Sky Tower

Tāne Mahuta, the highest tree in New Zealand

Leave the Bay of Islands behind as you set out on a scenic return trip to Auckland. Head west, leaving the Pacific Ocean for the wilder seas of Tasman and Hokianga. Pass through the small townships of Omapere and Opononi, each with a great seaside feel, then turn south through Waipoua Forest, home to the largest, oldest kauri trees in the country. Allow time for several short, signposted walks, and don't miss the view of the largest of all the trees, Tāne Mahuta. Also called "God of the Forest," it is estimated to be 1,250-2,500 years old. It is the largest living kauri tree known today. 

Stop for a visit at the Matakohe Kauri Museum to learn about the region's logging, farming, and social history, then get back on the road and cross the harbor bridge to arrive in Auckland. For a memorable evening back in the city, ascend the Sky Tower for 360-degree views of Tāmaki Makaurau (the Māori name for Auckland). Look out over ancient volcanoes, sunlit harbors, and beyond, take a "Sky Walk" at over 600 feet (192 m) above ground, or sit down to dinner in the Orbit Restaurant for a memorable revolving dining experience.

Day 6: Drive to Rotorua, Forest Canopy Tour

Spot Hobbit houses in the hillsides of Matamata 

Drive south from Auckland today, passing the Bombay Hills and the rolling farmland and rich dairy pastures of the Waikato. Pass through the town of Matamata and visit the Hobbit film set used in the shooting of the "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" trilogies. Skirt several small farming communities and spot telltale signs of steam and other geothermal activity, signaling your arrival in Rotorua

This afternoon, you can take an adventure through Rotorua's native New Zealand forest, journeying through the beautiful forest canopy through a vast network of trails, tree platforms, zip lines, and swing bridges. See breathtaking views of the woodland valleys and hills as you fly through tight openings in the trees. 

Day 7: Explore Rotorua's Geothermal Wonders

See many geysers of Rotorua 

Peppered with natural hot springs, boiling mud pools, and steaming geysers, Rotorua sits within one of the world's most active volcanic regions. Today you can explore its geothermal wonders at your leisure. Make sure to visit one of the area's many Māori villages (Rotorua is home to several prominent tribes) and venture into the surrounding forest to discover towering coastal redwoods, walking tracks, and some of the best mountain bike trails worldwide. 

For a higher-octane afternoon, stop by the Velocity Valley Adventure Park for stomach-dropping attractions such as static skydiving and a giant swing that reaches 80 miles (130 km) per hour. If you haven't gotten your fill of adrenaline sports, head up the Rotorua Gondola at sunset for soaring lake views, luge tracks, zip lines, and panoramic dining options. 

Day 8: Drive to Napier, Half-Day Hawke's Bay Wine Tour

A bridge over Huka Falls

Start today with a drive through the thermal region just south of Rotorua. Home to a plethora of geothermal attractions, including boiling mud pits, natural hot springs, and steaming geysers, this area is a must before you continue to Napier. Wai-O-Tapu has picturesque pools colored by natural minerals and features an impressive geyser that erupts daily, while Waimangu features the world's largest hot spring, the eye-catching pale blue Inferno Crater Lake. Take a walk around Craters of the Moon to see bubbling craters, fumaroles, mud pools, and steam vents.

Next, continue to Taupo and marvel at the lake—a giant crater formed by a volcanic eruption in the year 180 CE. Be sure to stop at Huka Falls to view the spectacular sight of fast-moving water spilling every second down the narrow, 36-foot (11-m) drop. Leave Taupo to follow the road toward the rugged Ahimanawa Range before descending back down the Pacific Coast to the Art Deco capital of Napier.

This afternoon, round off the day with a Hawke's Bay Wine Tour, designed for casual imbibers and wine aficionados alike. Approximately 90% of New Zealand's syrah, cabernets, and merlot are produced here, making it a top destination for discovering New Zealand's best wines. Make sure to enjoy a cheese platter on the grounds of the Ngatarawa Vineyard beside the lily pond!

Day 9: Take a Gannet Safari at Cape Kidnappers

Gannet colony near Muriwai Beach

Drive along the scenic coast from Napier to Te Awanga and join a gannet safari to discover the world's largest, most accessible gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers. Guided safaris are the only way to reach these remarkable sea birds and take an up-close look, traversing riverbeds, broad rolling pastures, stands of native bush, steep gullies, and breathtaking inclines.

Make a stop on the way at a spectacular clifftop featuring panoramic views of Hawke's Bay right across to the Māhia Peninsula. The 22-mile (36 km) three-hour trip includes a commentary by your tour guide on the farming operation on Cape Kidnappers Station and an introduction to the gannets. On arrival at the gannets, you can stretch your legs and take in the scenery from your position at the brink of the cliffs' edge at 328 feet (100 m) above the ocean!

Day 10: Drive to Wellington, Weta Cave Workshop Tour & Miniature Effects Tour

Views across Wellington and its iconic tram

Today, take a drive through the rolling countryside of Hawke's Bay to see some of New Zealand's richest farmland in the Manawatu region. Once you pass along the Manawatu Gorge, the Wairarapa welcomes you. Reach Masterton, home to the golden shears sheep shearing competition, while just south, Greytown boasts the largest concentration of historic wooden buildings in the country.

Nearby Martinborough is home to dozens of boutique wineries and many lunch options. The route takes you over the Rimutaka Range and along the magnificent natural harbor that the capital city of Wellington sits upon. Take a moment to stop and stretch your legs as you take in the towns, each offering beautiful nature, history, and views of the rich landscape that is New Zealand.

Once you've settled in at your hotel in the capital, spend the afternoon at the Weta Workshop for a film adventure. Weta Workshop is widely known for its miniatures and bigatures alike, created for films such as "Lord of the Rings," "The Legend of Zorro," and "Master and Commander." Visit the "Thunderbirds Are Go" shooting stage and discover the workshop's latest projects. Get up close to props, weapons, and costumes, and see artists at work as you peek through windows that look directly into the workshop.

Day 11: Depart Wellington

Sunset over Wellington

Time to return home! Depending on your flight departure time, make a final stop at the Maranui Café in Lyall Bay for a quintessential Wellington lunch. Order one of their famous "thickshakes" and pick something delicious from the cabinet or menu to fuel you on your journey back. When the time comes, you'll drop off your rental car and catch your departing flight. Safe travels!

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Map of North Island Road Trip: Auckland, Bay of Islands, Rotorua, Napier & Wellington - 11 Days
Map of North Island Road Trip: Auckland, Bay of Islands, Rotorua, Napier & Wellington - 11 Days