Experience the highlights of New Zealand's North Island on this eight-day self-drive adventure from Auckland to Wellington. Explore national parks and hot springs, see real Hobbit homes, and immerse yourself in the rich Indigenous culture and history. This journey includes many options for an adrenaline rush, as well as relaxing spa treatments to unwind and rejuvenate. This is the best way to see the North Island at your own pace!


  • Explore one of New Zealand's 800 regional, national parks
  • Tour the movie set from "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings"
  • Adventure by boat through a 30-million-year-old glowworm cave network
  • Experience natural thermal pool spas surrounded by nature

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Auckland, Explore Auckland
Day 2 Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton Rotorua
Day 3 Day Trip to Waitomo Rotorua
Day 4 Explore Rotorua: Te Puia & Māori Villages Rotorua
Day 5 Drive From Rotorua to Wellington Wellington
Day 6 Wellington: Full-Day The Lord of the Rings Tour Wellington
Day 7 Wellington: Museum Tour & Wildlife Sanctuary Wellington
Day 8 Depart Wellington  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Auckland, Explore

Auckland Harbor at night

Welcome to New Zealand! Collect your rental car on arrival at the airport and spend the rest of the day exploring the city. Auckland, New Zealand's self-proclaimed "City of Sails," is the country's largest metro area. Surrounded by native bush, rainforests, and an abundance of beaches, Auckland is a playground for both the city savvy and those with an eye for adventure.

Explore the central museums and galleries on foot or take a drive through one of over 800 regional national parks to see deserted beaches, waterfalls, and native forests. For the adventurous folk, free fall off of the SkyWalk—the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand! Tonight, there is an option to join a dinner cruise and sail through Auckland Harbor to take in the beautiful sights. 

Day 2: Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton

Set of Hobbiton

Drive south today to reach the real Middle-earth—take an escorted tour, and you'll see many locations used in the filming of "The Lord of The Rings" and "The Hobbit," as well as visit the actual set of Hobbiton. For true fans, there is an option to sample some traditional Hobbit fare and take the evening banquet experience—which includes a hearty Hobbit dinner and an evening tour through The Shire by lamplight.

Continue driving to reach Rotorua—the cultural center for the Māori people and the ideal place to gain an insight into New Zealand's history. One of the most popular introductions to the Māori culture is through an evening at Mitai Māori Village, where you can enjoy performances and demonstrations followed by a traditionally cooked hāngī meal. Of course, Rotorua is also a great place to enjoy many other activities, including fishing, 4WD trips, relaxing spa treatments, mountain biking, hiking, and helicopter and float plane trips. 

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Day 3: Day Trip to Waitomo

Waitomo's mysterios glowworm caves

Today's day trip will have you driving along New Zealand's longest river, the Waikato River, which guides you through the arts and crafts village of Tirau and the quaint township of Cambridge before turning south toward the limestone region of Waitomo.

Here there is an option to venture through the 30-million-year-old glowworm caves—a truly unforgettable experience. Explore the cave's historical and geological significance and hop into a boat to glide silently through the glowworm grotto into a galaxy of tiny living lights. After, choose to just drive through or get out and explore some different farming towns on your drive back to your stay in Rotorua.

Day 4: Explore Rotorua: Te Puia & Māori Villages

Māori village traditional tribe show

Peppered with natural hot springs, boiling mud pools, and steaming geysers, Rotorua sits within one of the world's most active volcanic regions. It is home to the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere, so make sure to explore Te Puia today to see it. Geothermal landmarks aside, this city of sulfur has a rich Indigenous history. If you didn't go the other day, a visit to one of the Māori villages for a unique cultural experience should be high on your agenda, as should an excursion to the Polynesian Spa for an invigorating soak in its natural mineral hot springs.

Spike your adrenaline at Velocity Valley Adventure Park on stomach-dropping attractions such as static skydiving or a giant swing reaching 81 miles (130 km) per hour. Alternatively, head up the Rotorua Gondola for soaring lake views, and ride the luge at night for an extra thrill. Make the most of your time in Rotorua with an excursion through the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, one of the area's most colorful volcanic attractions.

Day 5: Drive to Wellington, Explore

Wellington Cable Car
Historic journey on the Wellington Cable Car

The drive from Rotorua to Wellington takes you via the township of Taupo and New Zealand's largest lake, Lake Taupo. Lake Taupo is a gigantic volcanic caldera (collapsed crater) formed during one of the world’s largest eruptions—estimated to have taken place 1,800 years ago. Today you can visit Tongariro National Park, one of New Zealand’s three world heritage sites. A little farther along this vast landscape, you'll reach the military town of Waiouru, where the Army Museum holds an incredible collection of New Zealand military memorabilia and the history of its servicemen.

The coastal seaside towns of Paraparaumu, Paekakariki, and Plimmerton are worth a short detour before arriving in the capital city of Wellington by the end of the day. From your city center accommodation, you can easily stroll the cafés and restaurants around Courtenay Place, and if you arrive early enough, New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa, is also close by.

Day 6: Wellington: Full-Day The Lord of the Rings Tour

Wellington Bay
Mountain lookout point over Wellington

There are endless options of things to do near Wellington. Today, you can consider joining the The Lord of the Rings Tour for a great way to see the area. The tour brings you to several filming locations, provides a local lunch, allows you to see some great views, and ends with enough time for you to spend the night out exploring the city. For those who aren't interested in "The Lord of the Rings," there are plenty of other fun tours and activities to do around Wellington, including taking the day to relax on your own. 

Day 7: Wellington: Museum Tour & Wildlife Sanctuary

Wellington skyline at night

Today, you can join the Te Papa Museum Tour and be taken on a journey through New Zealand's rich history and culture. Hear stories of the area's adaptive wildlife, the resilience of the Māori people, and artistic interpretations of life in the South Pacific.

Tonight, a great optional activity is taking a night tour of the Zealandia wildlife eco-sanctuary—an unforgettable experience and one that comes highly recommended. Your guide will lead you on a torchlight walk through the native New Zealand bush. Possible sights include kiwi foraging on the forest floor, tuatara hunting for food, glowworms shining, tiny Maud Island frogs in their enclosure, pateke (brown teal) ducks feeding at night, and kaka (parrots) coming in to roost.

Tonight is your last night in New Zealand, so make sure to fit in all your last exploring and shopping! 

Day 8: Depart Wellington

Wellington Harbor at dusk

It's sadly your last morning in New Zealand. Say your final goodbyes and get ready to drop your rental car at the airport. Safe travels home!

More Great New Zealand Itineraries

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


Map of Self-Drive New Zealand: The North Island Bucket List - 8 Days
Map of Self-Drive New Zealand: The North Island Bucket List - 8 Days