For excellent trip-planning inspiration, read Jessica Verme's highlights from her ultimate Kiwi road trip, beginning with the North Island. Jessica's driving holiday sees her ziplining over Rotorua's redwoods, trekking the Tongariro Crossing, sampling Coromandel's famous beaches and enjoying the views from the northern tip of NZ.

Jessica's North Island Adventure

North Island

Auckland

First stop, The City of Sails! There are countless things to see and do in and around here. Auckland’s main shopping street is Queen Street, where you can also find little streets with cafés and restaurants. Giapo, on Gore street, offers the best handmade ice cream in the city, don’t forget to go check it out! Walk around the harbor to find other restaurants and rooftop bars. I personally adored Dr Rudi’s rooftop and Saint Alice; these places offer great food and drinks and an incredible view of the harbor.

Take the bus to go to the bottom of Mount Eden (Maungawhau in Māori) and walk up this little hill in only 10 minutes to enjoy a breathtaking view over Auckland, its Sky Tower and of a bowl-shaped crater of the volcano. Auckland is so big you can visit it by foot or even by ferry. Enjoy a 35 minutes ferry ride from the downtown pier to Waiheke Island, a renowned place for its wineries and beautiful beaches.

Appreciate another ferry ride but this time to go to Devonport, a little town with cafés, seafood restaurants, little shops and another hike up a Volcano, Mount Victoria (Takarunga in Māori). This hike takes 15 minutes to reach the top but once there you will have a 360-degree view of the city and metallic red mushrooms, which are actually bunker vents.

Reaching the Northernmost point of New Zealand

Driving from Auckland to Cape Reinga and coming back is a strenuous ride. But no worries, there are tons to see along the route. Not to far from the city is Piha, a beautiful black sand beach offering panoramic views and forest walks.

At 3 hours away are the spectacular Whangarei Falls, a 26 metres waterfall in the nature of New Zealand. All around this area you can enjoy walks in forests and waterfalls. Simply get lost in the New Zealand nature and discover the wonders of the country by yourself.

Next stop is the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the first accord between the British Crown and the Māori people has been signed. This place offers an authentic and cultural experience as well.

Once arrived at Cape Reinga, walk to the lighthouse. Throughout the walk, you will enjoy outstanding views of New Zealand nature and let me tell you that you will not be disappointed!

On the way back don’t forget to drive around 90 Mile beach and visit the Giant Te Paki Sand Dunes, this natural attraction is steep, for sure, but the fun is guaranteed. You can sandboard there or simply walk on these enormous dunes.

The Coromandel Peninsula

Driving Creek Railway takes you up a mountain to enjoy views of the Hauraki Gulf and see pottery sculptures. The train stops to give you the opportunity to take pictures.

To reach Cathedral Cove you need to park at the visitor car park in Hahei and take a shuttle service that costs only 5$ and that will take you at the top of the hill. There is the beginning of the walk to Cathedral Cove, which will take you around 30 minutes to reach the beach. It is preferred to be there during low tide, as the main attraction is reachable during that time. Don't forget your togs (swimsuit) and a towel if you'd like to go for a dip.

Hot Water Beach is accessible during low tide to find the hot springs. Be prepared, bring a shovel (you can buy one for 3$ at Look Sharp Store in Auckland or hire one for 10$ at the local café) and start digging a hole in the sand to fill it up naturally with hot water that can reach up to 64 degrees Celsius. Once everything's ready to start your Kiwi experience by relaxing in your natural private hot springs.

If you'd like to enjoy an unusual walk, try the Karangahake Gorge. This place has different tracks and loops that will lead you through rivers, bridges, old mining tunnels, and train tracks.

Tauranga

Tauranga is a little beach town in the Bay of Plenty region with yet another extinct volcano; Mount Maunganui (Mauao). The ascent of this mountain takes up to 35 minutes and some part are very steep so don’t forget to take breaks and to enjoy the view. The panoramic view of beaches, the city and the ocean from the very top is worth it ! The beachside town has lots of cafés, bars, restaurants and shops.

Hobbiton

The Hobbiton Movie Set Tour is something worth visiting even if you are not familiar at all with the movies or the universe. The set is the original location that was created for The Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit films. You will have the chance to explore the site with a guide, take countless pictures and enjoy a drink at the Green Dragon Inn for example. The place is incredibly green and the scenery is simply lovely.

Spellbound Glowworm Caves

The visit of the glowworm caves is a unique experience ! At first you will enjoy a ride in a cave to see the little shiny insects hanging from the ceiling with interesting comments from the guide. Then, you will walk in the forest to go to another cave that you will explore by foot.

Blue Spring Putaruru

On the way to Rotorua is a natural spring with such clear water you won’t believe your eyes. This is a very easy walk that is done is 3 hours return but you can walk less if you want. 

Sulphur City - Rotorua

Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity and Māori culture. Throughout the city, you can notice the smell of sulfur and at first, it is really disturbing but you will eventually get used to it. Anyways, you cannot really see New Zealand without passing through Rotorua because there are heaps to do here and around.

The Redwoods Treewalk is very interesting as you can walk either in the forest or on suspended bridges. The last option is however not free. I particularly enjoyed the walks in the forest, as there were easy, not too long and full of colors. The redness of the trees and the path, the blueness of the water and the greenness of the ferns made the walk incredible.

I highly recommend visiting the Mitai Māori Village. The experience takes place during the evening and will give you information about the culture and traditions of the Māori people. You will walk around the natural bush, see the traditional warrior canoe (waka), eat an authentic Hāngī meal, see cultural performances and meet some kiwis at the Rainbow Springs park.

Time to transform into a fish! Try the Wet’N’Wild Rafting which offers more than an hour of fun on the Lower Rangitaiki river. There are different grades so don’t worry. I did a grade 2 ride and it was really calm and not bouncy at all, I could appreciate the beauty of nature and even have a short swim in the cold river.

And now time to be a bird ! Go on a 3 hour guided tour of the Canopy forest with the Rotorua Canopy Tours team. Explore the forest, walk on bridges, spot and feed some birds and zipline through the forest while enjoying the landscape.

After that it is of course time to relax, clean and treat your body by experiencing a mud bath and sulfur spa at Hells Gate and WaiOra spa.

Waimangu Volcanic Valley is an easy self-guided walk that takes you back to the Prehistoric era (that was the feeling I had when entering the place). During the 1.5 hours walk, you will see nature, craters, geothermal activity (like smoke coming out of a rock for example) and much more. Arriving at the lake, a bus will take you back to the main entrance.

Wai-O-Tapu is not to be missed! No filters are required here when taking a picture. This active geothermal area offers a wide range of sightseeing going from the colorful hot pools to the yellow rocks, green waters and many more.

Tongariro Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is an 8 hour trek that required a moderate to high level of fitness considering the path is volcanic and steep. I have myself not a very good level of fitness and I thought I was about to abandon at times but the stops I made to admire the scenery (craters, lakes, waterfalls, …) was incredible and was what made me want to continue the ascent of Mount Tongariro. Once you reach the Red Crater (after 3.5-4 hours) you can relax because from there it will almost all be downhill (whew ! Simply take a look at my face on the picture, I am so relieved the steep part is over !).

Tips: Be ready to wake up early because the earlier you start, the earliest you can go to sleep. Don’t forget to dress warmly and be sure that you can take off some clothing as you may be cold or hot during the trek. Don’t forget to pack a lunch and tons of water as there is nothing you can buy once on the site and bring some toilet paper/tissues as there are toilets along the way, yay ! J)

Overview

If you are still hesitating between a beach holiday, a mountain escapade or embarking on a thrilling adventure, don’t hesitate any longer and let New Zealand’s beauty (sandy beaches, snow-covered mountains, rivers, lakes, plains, …) take you on an unforgettable journey.

I hope this article and the pictures have convinced you to immediately pack your bags and go visit New Zealand's North Island! If they didn’t, then I don’t know what more I can say about this amazing country except that Kiwis (the New Zealanders) are the sweetest as people I know and the funniest and that you may encounter more sheep than actual people there (joke).

My North Island Tour Map

NOTE

We hope you enjoyed reading Jessica's travel blog as much as we did. If you're interested in following a similar itinerary, we have more self-drive suggestions here.

Our experienced Travel Specialists understand that each family is completely unique - tell us all about your New Zealand dream holiday and we'll design a tailor-made itinerary that is guaranteed to impress!

Read Jessica's Guide to the South Island.

 Jessica Verme
Submitted by
Jessica Verme
: 4 Aug 2019 (Last updated: 10 Sep 2019)

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