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The Ultimate North Island Itinerary (New Zealand) 2023

The Best New Zealand North Island Itinerary (2 weeks):

Stop 1: Auckland

Auckland has the largest international airport in New Zealand, so it’s quite likely that your flight will arrive here.

Therefore, it’s the ideal starting point on your North Island itinerary.

Based around two large harbours, Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand and well worth a visit.

I would recommend staying for 1 night and giving yourself a full day to explore.

A city skyline with skyscrapers and a radio tower behind a body of water dotted with sailing boats and port equipment.
Auckland city skyline

Ascending Auckland Sky Tower is one of the best things to do in Auckland, along with visiting Auckland War Memorial Museum and Viaduct Harbour.

Mount Eden is an extinct volcano which is now covered in grass, making it a cool spot to visit for great views over the city.

Also, a visit to the hip Ponsonby neighbourhood for food is a fun way to spend a summer’s evening, along with visiting some of Auckland’s breweries.

If you’re planning a roadtrip in a campervan or car, I would suggest picking it up from the rental place on the way out of Auckland (or after Waiheke Island), because parking can get expensive.

Best Places to Stay in Auckland

Best Auckland budget accommodation: Haka Lodge
Best Auckland mid-range accommodation: Quest on Queen Serviced Apartments
Best Auckland luxury accommodation: Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour

Stop 2: Waiheke Island

Fancy visiting an island that’s been named one of the most beautiful in the world?

Just a 45 minute ferry ride from Downtown Auckland, Waiheke Island is a heavenly spot just off the coast.

Waiheke Island is a wine-growing region, so day-trippers head over from the city to experience its fabulous vineyards for themselves.

I’ll cut to the chase, the best vineyards on Waiheke Island are Tantalus Estate, Man O’ War Vineyards and Te Motu Vineyard.

Alternatively, you could do a wine tour to see several vineyards in one day and be chauffeured around.

If you prefer golden sand to grape vines, then you can spend the day exploring Waiheke Island’s world class beaches and idyllic bays instead.

Onetangi Bay is the most famous beach on Waiheke (amazing sunsets), whilst Palm Beach is also stunning.

Whilst vehicle crossings are available, I would personally catch the passenger ferry from Downtown Auckland.

Once on the island, you can either take public transport or utilise the Hop-On Hop-Off Explorer Bus Tour (which many people use to visit an optimal number of wineries in one day!).

After leaving Waiheke Island/ Auckland, it’s worth checking out the black sands and rugged landscapes of Piha Beach west of the city.

Best Places to Stay on Waiheke Island

Best Waiheke Island budget accommodation: Waiheke Backpackers Hostel
Best Waiheke mid-range accommodation: Palm Heights
Best Waiheke luxury accommodation: Enclosure Bay Retreat
Best Waiheke campground: Poukaraka Flats Campground (low cost)

Stop 3: Matakana & Omaha Beach

Less than one hour north of Auckland, you’ll arrive at your next stop on the North Island Itinerary, the beautiful Matakana Coast.

With great breweries, artisan food and boutiques, the small town of Matakana has become a bit of a getaway hotspot for Aucklanders in recent years.

Even better, it still has an authentic ‘local’ vibe because tourists haven’t really discovered it yet.

The Matakana Village Farmers’ Market is a must-do weekend activity with live music and great food (and even a doggy day care!)

A stall selling vegetables at a farmers market with a woman buying aubergines in the foreground.
A weekend to remember at Matakana Village Farmers’ Market

Foodies should also check out Matakana Oysters, Fired Pizza Company, The Vintry Wine Bar and 8 Wired Brewing Barrelworks.

After a few hours exploring Matakana, you should head to the bright white sands of Omaha Beach.

Accessed by a long wooden boardwalk through the dunes, it’s where you’ll find some of the whitest sand in New Zealand.

A wooden boardwalk running through the middle of sand dunes towards blue ocean in the distance.
The boardwalk leading to Omaha Beach near Matakana

Just opposite Omaha Beach you’ll find Ti Point, a turquoise blue bay perfect for snorkelling.

Pete & Mary’s Eatery in nearby Warkworth is an unreal coffee and brunch spot worth checking out whilst in the area.

Also, Anchor Bay Beach is a bliss spot to visit for a few hours, which is found inside Tawharanui Regional Park.

Tawharanui Regional Park is also where you need to go to find rare wild kiwis at night (you’ll need a red light torch to see them without disturbing their nocturnal patterns).

The Best Places to Stay on the Matakana Coast

Matakana Coast budget accommodation: Leigh Boatshed Cabin
Matakana Coast mid-range accommodation: Matakana Chalet
Matakana Coast luxury accommodation: Matakana Bush Retreat
Matakana Coast’s best campsite: Sandspit Holiday Park

Stop 4: Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands is actually a group of 140 subtropical islands off the east coast of New Zealand.

Teeming with marine life, Bay of Islands’ flawless and unspoilt beaches can only be accessed by yacht or boat.

A viewpoint overlooking small tree-covered islands and blue ocean dotted with small sailing boats.
Bay of Islands on New Zealand’s North Island

To see several different islands in one day, choose a full day boat tour for the opportunity to see dolphins, snorkel, swim and stand-up paddle board.

Travellers on a budget may want to get the passenger ferry from Paihia to Russell instead, which allows you to experience the Bay of Islands without spending much ($14 return for adults).

Russell is an old colonial town with architecture from that era, as well as turquoise water and impressive viewpoints.

Whilst in the Bay of Islands, definitely check out the Waitangi Treaty Grounds (a protected site where the first accord between the British and the Māori was signed).

Bay of Islands is also the place where you can do one of the highest skydives in New Zealand (20,000 ft).

Just south of Bay of Islands you’ll find Whananaki, which I can highly recommend for dazzling blue ocean and beaches (the Otamure Bay DOC Campsite is cheap and pure bliss).

Best Places to Stay in Bay of Islands

Budget Bay of Islands accommodation: Bay of Islands Lodge
Mid-range Bay of Islands accommodation: Paihia Tree House
Luxury Bay of Islands accommodation: Sea View Airbnb
Best Bay of Islands campground: Paihia TOP 10 Holiday Park

Stop 5: Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga is the northernmost tip of New Zealand and an amazing place to visit as part of your North Island itinerary.

Found right at the very tip of North Island up the Twin Coast Discovery Highway, Cape Reinga is officially the end of the road.

It’s also culturally significant for Māori, as they believe the spirits of the deceased depart to the afterlife from this tip of land.

The furthest point north you can walk to is Cape Reinga Lighthouse, from here you can see strange currents and waves created by the collision of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

When you get to Cape Reinga Lighthouse, try to spot the ‘Spirit Tree’, which is located at the end of the rocky tip.

A tip of rocky land reaching out into the ocean with a small sandy beach on the left being hit by small waves.
Cape Reinga at the top of North Island

After you’ve admired this bucket-list spot, you need to check out the Giant Sand Dunes just a couple of miles south.

The Giant Sand Dunes are a natural occurrence of shifting sand dunes, providing a perfect spot for sandboarding.

Visitors can hire bodyboards from a kiosk by the dunes in high season… let the fun commence!

On your way back south, I would definitely check out Waipoua Kauri Forest to see the Tāne Mahuta (New Zealand’s largest known living kauri tree/ ‘Lord of the Forest’).

The Best Places to Stay Near Cape Reinga

Budget Cape Reinga accommodation: Tekao Lodge
Mid-Range Cape Reinga accommodation: Hendo Heights
Luxury Cape Reinga accommodation: The Boat House
Best campsite near Cape Reinga: Taputaputa Camping Area (low cost right on the beach)

Stop 6: Waipu Caves (Glow Worms)

Fancy seeing amazing glow worms for free?

Waipu Caves is one of the most underrated spots in New Zealand, and one of North Island’s best kept secrets.

Unlike Waitomo Caves, which cost a lot of money to visit, Waipu Caves are completely free and offer the opportunity to see hundreds of glow worms.

Found at the edge of a field in a rural part of Northland, the cave is open to the public every day.

To experience the glow worms for yourself, enter the cave and head to your left.

Next, you’ll need to walk through ankle-deep water for about 50 metres and you’ll be rewarded with a ceiling full of glow worms.

Blue glow worms on the roof inside a dark cave.
Glow worms at Waipu Cave in Northland via _helengriffiths on Instagram

Seeing the glow worms requires waterproof boots and a torch, and you’ll need to take care because the rocks at the entrance to the cave can be slippery.

For those up for the challenge, you won’t regret adventuring into Waipu Caves.

Also, the field at the entrance to the cave is actually a free campervan site with toilets.

Best Places to Stay Near Waipu Caves

Budget accommodation near Waipu Caves: Room With a View
Mid-Range Accommodation near Waipu Caves: Jagged Little Hill Studio
Luxury Accommodation in Waipu: The Black Shed
Best Waipu campground: Waipu Caves Free Camping (right next to cave entrance)

Stop 7: Hot Water Beach

On Hot Water Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula, hot springs run underneath the sand, creating a geothermal phenomenon.

Thanks to nature’s magic, at certain times of the day you can grab a shovel and dig a hole in the sand that will fill with thermal water.

A steaming pool of water on a beach with a shovel stuck in the sand. Waves crash on rocks and the sun rises in the distance.
Dig for geothermal water on Hot Water Beach via The Coromandel

The pools of steamy water are great to bathe in, but the water is only hot for 2 hours either side of low tide (make sure you check the low tide times and plan your trip accordingly).

Equally important, the hot water only runs in a particular section of the beach, so look for the small rocks sticking out of the sea and dig in front of them.

You don’t need to bring your own shovels, you can hire them for a couple of dollars from the café near the beach.

Whilst on the stunning Coromandel Peninsula, don’t miss Cathedral Cove for epic kayaking in turquoise water, the wonderful cliffs of Cooks Beach and the Whenuakura Wildlife Sanctuary on Donut Island.

Best Places to Stay Near Hot Water Beach

Budget accommodation near Hot Water Beach: Paku Lodge Resort
Mid-range accommodation near Hot Water Beach: Hot Water Beach Cottage (right by the steaming pools!)
Luxury accommodation near Hot Water Beach: Hot Water Beach Jacuzzi Airbnb
Best campground near Hot Water Beach: Paku Drive Tairua (free camping by Mt Paku)

Stop 8: Mount Maunganui

If hiking up an extinct volcano overlooking the ocean sounds like your cup of tea, then you’ll love Mount Maunganui.

The sacred Māori site is home to stunning hiking trails, and whilst the ascent is challenging, the viewpoint at the summit is worth every step.

The viewpoint from the top of a mountain overlooking a peninsula town by the ocean with a white beach, gentle waves and small islands in the distance.
The view from the summit of Mount Maunganui

The hike up takes less than an hour, and you’ll be able to see right across the Bay of Plenty from the top.

Mount Maunganui also offers some of the best foodie spots on the North Island – eat at Ours Cafe for breakfast/ brunch, Lolo Authentic Turkish Kitchen for lunch and Solera for dinner.

Mount Maunganui is a chilled out town offering serious beach holiday vibes.

Don’t miss the golden sands of Main Beach for surfing and Pilot Bay Beach for a spot of SUP in calm waters.

Best Places to Stay Near Mount Maunganui

Budget accommodation near Mount Maunganui: Mount Backpackers
Mid-range accommodation near Mount Maunganui: Downtown Mount Maunganui Apartment
Luxury accommodation in Mount Maunganui: Oceanside Haven
Best Mount Maunganui campsite: Mount Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park

Stop 9: Hobbiton

The next stop is undoubtedly the most popular on the North Island Itinerary.

Hobbiton is a bucket-list activity for anyone who grew up watching Lord of the Rings, and there’s a reason why tens of thousands visit every year.

A hobbit hole covered in grass and vines with a big tree on top of it and steps leading to a round green door.
Bilbo Baggins’ house at Hobbiton Movie Set

Featuring in The Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit trilogies, The Hobbiton Movie Set was the filming location for the fictional village of Hobbiton in the Shire (home to the Hobbits).

The props, scenery and Hobbit Holes have been preserved to look exactly as they did in the films, so you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into LOTR for real.

Best Places to Stay Near Hobbiton Movie Set

Budget accommodation near Hobbiton Movie Set: Unfortunately, there’s no budget accommodation or hostels near Hobbiton. However, it only takes a few hours to visit so you can head straight to Rotorua after your tour.
Mid-range accommodation near Hobbiton Movie Set: Cosy Country Stay B&B
Luxury accommodation near Hobbiton Movie Set: Villa Walton Bed & Breakfast
Best campsite near Hobbiton Movie Set: Da Barn (right near the entrance to the tour)

Stop 10: Rotorua

Rotorua is the most famous spot for geothermal activity in New Zealand, and it also has a strong Māori culture.

From exploring living Māori villages to bathing in thermal mud baths and witnessing spouting geysers, a stay overnight in Rotorua is recommended to experience it all.

For the best paid geothermal activities in Rotorua, don’t miss Manupirua Springs Hot Pools and Secret Spot Hot Tubs Rotorua for bathing.

If you’re travelling on a budget and don’t want to pay for a pricey hot pool experience, Kerosene Creek is a natural hot spring with a waterfall that’s free to visit.

Waiotapu Mud Pool is another great free spot to witness hot bubbling mud, whilst the public Kuirau Park in the centre of town is a maze of hot springs with free geothermal foot baths.

A geothermal park pictured from above with steaming hot blue water surrounding by wooden viewing platforms and green trees.
Kuirau Park’s geothermal activity in the centre of Rotorua via Kuirau Park

Those visiting Rotorua in a campervan should definitely stay at Waikite Valley Thermal Pools.

Costing around $30 per adult per night for a campervan pitch, the campsite offers campers access to the six amazing hot pools.

The hot pools can be enjoyed throughout your stay, and the best thing is you get exclusive access to the pools at sunrise before the park opens to the public.

Steps leading down to a steaming hot pool overlooked by trees, bushes and hills in the distance.
Waikite Valley Thermal Pools

For authentic cultural experiences in Rotorua, you’ll love Te Puia (home to the impressive Pōhutu geyser) and Whakarewarewa – The Living Maori Village.

But Rotorua has more to offer than just geothermal activity.

Rotorua Night Market on a Thursday has a buzzing atmosphere, whilst the Rotorua Luge is a must-do activity for kids and adults alike.

The Redwoods Treewalk is a brilliant opportunity to see 115 year old Californian Redwoods in Whakarewarewa Forest.

Rotorua is also the white water rafting capital of New Zealand, because the nearby Kaituna River is home to the highest rafted waterfall in the world.

An inflatable raft filled with people dropping down a steep waterfall with green lush plants and rocks on either side.
White water rafting in Rotorua via Kaituna Cascades

After leaving Rotorua, you may want to check out Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland on the way to Taupo, a cool geothermal area with bright green and bright orange steaming lakes.

Just so you’re prepared, Rotorua is named the ‘sulphur city’ and New Zealand’s smelliest destination with a distinct scent of rotten eggs!

Best Places to Stay in Rotorua

Best budget accommodation in Rotorua: Rotorua Downtown Backpackers
Best mid-range accommodation in Rotorua: Amberly House Rotorua
Best luxury accommodation in Rotorua: Regent of Rotorua Boutique Hotel
Best Rotorua campsites: Waikite Valley Thermal Pools (with hot pools) or Hinemoa Street Car Park (free)

Stop 11: Lake Taupo

Lake Taupo is also a must-do stop on your North Island itinerary.

Found in the middle of New Zealand’s central volcanic plateau, the large crater lake is the biggest in the country.

Huka Falls, the most famous waterfall in New Zealand, is a sight to behold.

It drains a quarter of a million litres of water per second from the lake, and I think it’s the best thing to see in Taupo.

Thrill-seekers may want to witness the cascading water upclose on the Huka Jet, whilst walkers will enjoy the Spa Thermal Park to Huka Falls Walk along the Waikato River.

Watching the Aratiatia Rapids is a cool thing to do in Lake Taupo (a free experience where the Aratiatia Dam opens to release powerful amounts of water through a narrow gorge).

You may recognize the rapids from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, when the dwarves travel in wooden barrels down the gorge.

The dam opens at 10am, 12pm and 2pm every day (there’s also a 4pm opening in summer).

Hikers will love Mt Tauhara, a challenging 3.5 hour return tramp offering panoramic views of Lake Taupo and central North Island from the summit.

A mountain covered in trees with a grassy hill in the foreground.
Mt Tauhara above Lake Taupo (it’s steeper than it looks!)

On the actual lake, visitors enjoy waterskiing or kayaking, whilst culture enthusiasts will enjoy the boat trip out to the Māori rock carvings at Mine Bay.

Best Places to Stay on Lake Taupo

Budget accommodation on Lake Taupo: Haka Lodge Taupo
Mid-range accommodation on Lake Taupo: Taupo Lake View Guest Suite
Luxury accommodation on Lake Taupo: Edge Hill Hut (tiny home with outdoor bath tub).
Best Lake Taupo campsite: Hipapatua Recreational Reserve/ Reids Farm (free) or Taupo TOP 10 (with pool and hot tub)

Stop 12: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is undoubtedly one of the top highlights of the North Island itinerary.

Definitely the most famous hike in all of New Zealand, Mordor in the Lord of the Rings movies was set in Tongariro National Park, and the alpine crossing allows you to journey into Middle Earth for yourself.

A rocky volcanic landscape of dark brown peaks and green lakes shown from a high viewpoint.
Stunning views on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The one-day trek is 19.4 kms (12 miles) – it winds through barren landscapes and jagged volcanic rock formations and allows you to experience Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom) up close.

Fit and healthy hikers can tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in summer without a guide.

The shuttle bus can be booked so that you can leave your vehicle at the finish point and get a lift to the start of the hike.

In autumn and winter, due to volatile alpine conditions you will need to join a guided tour to complete the crossing.

Best Places to Stay Near Tongariro National Park

Budget accommodation near Tongariro National Park: National Park Alpine Lodge
Mid-range accommodation near Tongariro National Park: Plateau Lodge
Luxury accommodation near Tongariro National Park: Mountain View Airbnb
Best campsite near Tongariro Alpine Crossing: Whakapapa Holiday Park

*After completing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, you may want to challenge yourself to do the Mount Taranaki Summit Track/ Pouakai Crossing in Egmont National Park. The mountain is quite far out west, so only head there if you have an extra day or two on your North Island trip. Fit and well-equipped trampers can hike to the summit between Dec-April, but unfortunately for the rest of the year it’s covered with ice and snow. This is an optional extra stop on your North Island Itinerary.

A mountain peak at sunrise behind an area of long grass and a lake which reflects the mountain in its water.
Views of Mount Taranaki from the Pouakai Crossing

Stop 13: Hawke’s Bay

Hawke’s Bay is a lovely wine region found over on the east coast of North Island.

Set amongst green hillsides, you’ll find over 70 wineries and vineyards in the Hawke’s Bay area.

Napier (with art-deco architecture) and Hastings are the big towns in Hawke’s Bay, but I would choose Havelock North or Te Awanga as a base for proximity to wineries and beautiful beaches.

Uber is available in this area so you can taxi between different wineries in a day, but many visitors choose to hire a bike and follow the winery trail.

The best winery bike trail in Hawke’s Bay begins at the coastal vineyards of Haumoana/ Te Awanga before following the TukiTuki river inland to the wineries of Havelock North.

A building with a tin roof and a wooden patio covered in chairs filled with people relaxing. In front of the building is a grassy area and a tree where people are sitting down and talking.
Te Awanga Estate via Hawke’s Bay NZ

Best Places to Stay in Hawke’s Bay

Budget accommodation in Hawke’s Bay: Harakeke Homestay
Mid-range accommodation in Hawke’s Bay: Tennis Pavilion in the Vines
Luxury accommodation in Hawke’s Bay: Mangapapa Hotel
Best campsite in Hawke’s Bay: Clifton Road Reserve (amazing free campground right on the beach)

Stop 14: Wellington

Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand, is well worth a visit on your North Island Roadtrip.

First of all, Wellington is where you’ll find Te Papa Museum of New Zealand, the national museum which is brilliant and free to visit.

Strolling up to Mount Victoria Lookout or Te Ahumairangi Hill Lookout will provide the best views of the coastal city, whilst others may prefer taking the Wellington Cable Car up past the Wellington Botanic Garden to the Kelburn viewpoint.

A building with a tin roof and a wooden patio covered in chairs filled with people relaxing. In front of the building is a grassy area and a tree where people are sitting down and talking.
The funicular railway in Wellington, NZ

For a cheap way to see the best that Wellington has to offer, a top tip is to do the Wellington Waterfront Walk.

The walk starts at Queen’s Wharf and heads south over the City to Sea Bridge (with Māori carvings), before passing the Naked Man Statue and continuing towards the marina and beachside neighbourhood of Oriental Bay.

Cuba St in the city centre is also a must-visit area, offering great restaurants, art and shopping.

Best Places to Stay in Wellington

Budget accommodation in Wellington: The Marion Hostel
Mid-range accommodation in Wellington: Cute City Airbnb
Luxury accommodation in Wellington: InterContinental Wellington
Best Wellington campground: Evans Bay Marina Carpark

That’s it! You’ve made it to your last stop on your North Island Itinerary. From Wellington you can drop off your campervan, fly back to Auckland/ home or catch the ferry to South Island via the Cook Strait for more epic roadtrip adventures.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the ultimate North Island itinerary 2022. I’m confident I’ve covered everything you need to include in your North Island New Zealand roadtrip.

Make sure you allow a minimum of two weeks for this trip so you don’t end up rushing. You don’t need to stay overnight at every stop on this itinerary – places like Waiheke Island, Matakana and Hobbiton Movie Set can be visited in a couple of hours, whilst you may want to stay a couple of nights in places like Rotorua and Lake Taupo.

I haven’t included the surf town of Raglan on the west coast, which you could add to your itinerary if you have a little more time available.

Lucky enough to do a one-month roadtrip in New Zealand? Check out my One-Month North & South Island Itinerary here to see more of this beautiful country.