This self-drive itinerary hits the highlights of New Zealand's North Island with a wide array of activities and landscapes. Along the way, you'll explore Auckland's best neighborhoods, sip pours from local wineries, go swimming and kayaking, and take part in Rotorua's geothermal treatments and Maori culture—all within the span of a week.

Highlights

  • Lunch on mussels and oysters at Auckland's fish market
  • Ferry to a gorgeous island for beaches, wineries, and artist studios
  • Take a night paddle in a sea kayak surrounded by glowworms
  • Indulge in some geothermal spa treatments while visiting Rotorua 
  • Hike along Mount Eden to snap photos of Auckland during your last night

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland - City Highlights Auckland
Day 2 Waiheke Island Day-Trip Auckland
Day 3 Drive to Tauranga - Evening Kayak Excursion Tauranga
Days 4-5 Explore Rotorua's Natural Attractions Rotorua
Day 6 Return to Auckland - Neighborhood Stroll Auckland
Day 7 Depart Auckland  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland - City Highlights

Walk the streets of Auckland

Welcome to Auckland, also known as the 'Big Little City' or 'City of Sails'! Upon arrival at Auckland Airport, you'll meet your driver who will transfer you to the hotel. Settle into your accommodations and then spend the rest of the day exploring New Zealand's largest metropolis however you wish. 

A great place to start is by heading to the Sky Tower. Rising 1,076 feet (328 m), this iconic needle is the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand and offers breathtaking views in every direction. Purchase a ticket to ride in the glass-enclosed elevators to one of three spectacular viewing platforms—or for more excitement, choose the SkyWalk to step outside. Even more thrilling is the SkyJump, a bungee experience that gives you 11 seconds of pure adrenaline as you plunge 53 floors. Kiwis are known for their love of adventure sports so this latter option is 100% apropos. 

From here, you can walk over to Wynward Quarter, a new area in a former industrial hub built for the World Cup that is fast becoming a hit with Aucklanders. Wander around and visit the Auckland Fish Market offering seafood lunch options like steamed mussels and fresh oysters. Hop on a 50-year old restored tram and ride to New Zealand's oldest neighborhood, Parnell, to discover its galleries and cafés. Order a long black—a favorite coffee order in New Zealand—made by pouring a double-shot of espresso over hot water, then sit back and people watch. 

Day 2: Waiheke Island Day-Trip

Waiheke
The ferry dock on Waiheke Island

Today, get ready for a scenic day-trip exploring Waiheke Island, known for its picturesque forests, beaches, vineyards, and olive groves, as well as great food and culture. The island is just a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland through the sparkling Hauraki Gulf, so keep your camera close. When you deboard, pick from an array of sites and activities while utilizing transportation options like taxis, bike and scooter rentals, or the bus, which is frequent and cheap. 

If it's a beautiful day, you'll likely want to head to the sea. From forested bays to white-sand beaches, Waiheke’s scenic coastline boasts a diverse range of waterside retreats. The most accessible stretch of sand from the ferry is Oneroa Beach, located down the path from Oneroa Village where you can pick up a picnic lunch. This wide, white-sand beach offers clear water that is safe for swimming, as well as views of boats and yachts who drop anchor nearby, adding to the atmosphere. 

With a large population of writers, poets, and artists who have chosen the island as the base for their studios, Waiheke is one of New Zealand’s most important artistic hubs and visitors can see a mix of sculptures, ceramics, and paintings. Start with the Waiheke Community Art Gallery—a non-profit organization featuring exhibits and a gift shop, and then ask for recommendations for the best studios on the island. 
 
As for wineries, Waiheke has ideal terroir for a variety of grapes thanks to its hot, dry summers, and stony soils. There are dozens of wineries spread across the island, and many offer tasting sessions and excellent restaurants for lunch. A few recommendations include Stonyridge, Passage Rock, Mudbrick Vineyard, and Te Motu Vineyard.

In the afternoon, you'll return to Auckland by ferry in time to explore more of the city's dining and nightlife scene.

Day 3: Drive to Tauranga - Evening Kayak Adventure

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Where else can you go sea kayaking after dark

Today, it's time to leave Auckland for the open road! You'll pick up a rental car and drive to Tauranga the largest hub in the Bay of Plenty and one of the fastest growing population centers in the country.

While here, don't miss 'the mount', the colloquial name for Mount Maunganui, a 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 called Mauao, which rises 750 feet (230 m) above sea level. There's a choice of trails leading to the summit—some more challenging than others—so take your pick. Look for huge views of the harbor, beach and Pacific Ocean that make the effort totally worthwhile.

In the evening, it's time for a Glowworm Evening Kayak Tour! This is perhaps the only place in the world where you can sea kayak amongst glowworms, which makes for a unique experience. Refreshments will be served. 

After this magical adventure, you'll head to your beachside hotel for the night. 

Days 4-5: Explore Rotorua

A geothermal lake called Champagne Pool

After breakfast at your hotel in Tauranga, you'll continue driving to the country's geothermal city of Rotorua, while preparing for the smell of sulfur! You'll spend the next two days exploring the area including numerous options to soak in the naturally-heated waters and take part in the traditional Māori atmosphere. 

Suggested activities include: 

  • Skyline Gondola & Luge: This is your chance to ride a gondola high above Rotorua for stunning panoramic views over the lake and nearby towns. If you're looking for more thrills, Skyline Luge is a fun-packed, gravity-fuelled ride suitable for all ages and abilities.

  • Polynesian Spa: For pure relaxation, New Zealand’s leading international day spa—often considered one of the best in the world— provides a unique thermal spa experience on the shore of Lake Rotorua. 

  • Hells Gate: Set within 50 acres, this otherworldly geothermal park has a variety of thermal features. You can walk past steaming fumaroles and boiling mud pools, and see the violent geothermal activity of the Inferno and the Kakahi Falls—the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. 

  • Agrodome: This informative attraction offers visitors the perspective of a true New Zealand farmer where you'll gain insight into the world of New Zealand agriculture. You'll experience 19 sheep breeds, sheep shearing, cow milking, lamb feeding, and dog demonstrations.

  • Hamurana Springs: This site is famous for its beautiful crystal clear freshwater springs which emanate from the ground and flow downstream into Lake Rotorua. It is the deepest natural spring in the North Island, and you can find a picturesque 20-minute walking trail through a grove of Redwood trees where you'll see many different bird varieties.

  • Mitai Maori Cultural Experience: An evening at Mitai will give you an awe-inspiring authentic introduction to Maori culture. Be enthralled by the natural bush setting, see warriors in traditional dress paddle an ancient warrior canoe (waka) down the Wai-o-whiro stream, and don’t miss your only opportunity to see more glowworms in their natural habitat. 

Day 6: Return to Auckland - Neighborhood Stroll

Shop for souvenirs on your last day

Today, you'll make the three-hour return trip back to Auckland where you'll return your rental car. From here, you'll have the rest of the afternoon to stroll around the city. 

This is a great opportunity to check out more neighborhoods like trendy Ponsonby Road for high-end shopping and upscale restaurants. Britomart is another cool area near the railway station of the same name with bars, restaurants, designer shops, and a local market on Saturdays

Meanwhile, Devonport is a historic seaside suburb with a relaxed atmosphere. Walk around the village at your leisure and visit some of the charming art galleries, historic points of interest, and scenic lookouts. 

Before sunset, you can head to Mount Eden, a volcanic peak overlooking the city, for an early evening hike with views of Hauraki Gulf. While here, visit the area's quirky shops and local wine bars—a fun way to end the trip! 

Day 7: Depart Auckland

A memorable sunrise

It's time to say goodbye to Auckland! After breakfast at your hotel, enjoy any remaining free time to wander around the city. At the designated time, you'll be escorted to the airport for your onward flight. 

Map

Map of New Zealand's North Island Adventure - 7 Days
Map of New Zealand's North Island Adventure - 7 Days