Ideal Itinerary: 2-Week Road Trip Through NZ’s North Island

Get the full view of a New Zealand adventure.

One of the best ways to see a new country is by car – winding through the rural countryside, taking pit stops in small town roadsides, and chatting with locals as you go. To experience New Zealand, its vast variety of cultures and epic photo ops, snag a car for a drive from the southern tip of the North Island, the windy port of Wellington, through the volcanic landscapes and sheep covered hills, and arrive at the top in the Bay of Islands for a decadent beach getaway. Follow along this two week road trip to get the full view of a New Zealand adventure, complete with adrenaline pumping, mouth watering, culture expansion, and pure relaxation experiences.

Day 1: Travel – Arrive in Wellington

There is no better introduction to New Zealand than Wellington – home to the Weta Workshop, Te Papa museum, a bustling art, culinary and craft beer scene, epic mountain top lookouts, and water sports and games. This walkable port-side town is also known as the windiest city in the world, and may be prone to earthquakes, so come prepared to dress in layers as the weather shifts from one block to the next.

Check out this city guide for two days in Wellington.

Wellington.
Photo: Nicole Albertson

Day 3: Travel – Wellington to Lake Taupo

Drive: 231m/ 372km – 4h51m

Stay: Kinloch Club 

A big travel day, take the time to stop roadside and experience New Zealand’s epic land. Settle into your remote, luxury hotel for a decedent night, private cheffing, and sherbert sunset. Lake Taupo is another hot spot for water activities, with crystal clear waters and an abundance of boat rentals and charters if you’re craving an afternoon adrenaline rush.

Check out some luxury resorts throughout the North Island.

Photo: Nicole Albertson

Day 4: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Mt. Tongariro Alpine Crossing near Lake Taupo is marketed as one of the top 10 one-day hikes in the world that is challenging, but not impossible. A very fine line. The crossing is a 12-mile adventure across active volcanic peaks, geothermal pools, crater lakes, and lava fields. In the summer, the trail is lined with tourists tramping (that’s New Zealand for hiking) across the pass, stopping to munch and picnic along the way, carrying small children as they cross the summit and descent to the end. In the winter, it is a true Alpine hike blanketed in ice, gusting wind and snow storms, and pelting rain in the lower altitudes. A guide is strongly, strongly recommended for any winter crossings. Also strongly recommended: a massage, warm bath, and heavy meal post-trek.

TongariroAlpineCrossing.
Photo: Nicole Albertson

Day 5: Travel – Taupo to Rotorura

Drive: 50m/ 81km – 1h15m

Stay: AirBnb

Rotorura is a must-see for any New Zealand vacation, packed with thrill seeking opportunities to test your limits, followed by soothing hot springs, geysers, and cultural tours to calm your mind. Plan to spend a couple of days here to maximize all the possibilities this small lakeside town has to offer.

Check out this list of activity options for Rotorura.

Day 8: Travel – Rotorura to Tauranga

Drive: 39m/ 67km – 1h

Stay: EcoLodge

Option: Stop at Hobbiton on your way to Tauranga

Drive: 81.7m/ 132km – 1h 49m

For any Lord of the Rings watcher, this is a must see to step onto the movie set for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Take a night off in Tauranga, a harborside city with waterfall hikes, boat rides, whale watching, helicopter tours, and adventure parks. For a one-of-a-kinda stay, opt for a night at the Mount Tutu Eco lodge – owned and operated by a couple dedicated to preserving the land and sharing it with visitors. This bed and breakfast is hidden in the hills below Tauranga and has a private glow worm river bed (which is shown off during private night tours), a natural bush forrest laid out with walking trails, and friendly farm animals who tend to follow you around the property. Truly a unique highlight for a night beneath the stars.

Mount Tutu Tauranga
Photo: Nicole Albertson

Day 9: Travel – Tauranga to Auckland

Drive: 126m/ 204km – 2h 48m

Stay: Hotel DeBrett

Auckland is a major headliner on the North Island, and deserves a prime call out for any metropolis lovers. Centered off a bustling harbor, Auckland has a chic shopping and downtown district, lined with cobblestone streets, hidden bars and restaurants with top star food. Fill your days by cruising to nearby Waiheke island for ziplining and wine tasting, or rise to the top of the Sky Tower for a breathtaking views and a heart stopping 192 metre base jump. End the day by catching cocktails waterside and a gourmet meal before setting out for a night on the town.

Check out this list of hot spots to dine in Auckland.

SkyTower2Auckland.
Photo: Nicole Albertson

Day 11: Travel – Auckland to Helena Bay

Drive: 124m/ 199km – 2h 49m

Stay: Helena Bay Resort

Take the time to treat yourself with a luxury resort, and relax. Splurge for a massage and give into an afternoon (or two) of lying on the beach with nothing to do. Or, if you’re like me and unable to relax, take a hike around the property, kayak in the bay, or pick up a bike for a trail ride through the trees. Keep your eyes peeled for some amazing ocean life sightings! Penguins, sting rays, and orcas are known to hang out in these spots. Either way, use this time to refresh your mind, because unfortunately… the vacation will soon be over!

Check out some luxury resorts throughout the North Island.

Day 13: Travel – Helena Bay to Auckland / Depart

Drive: 124m/ 199km – 2h 49m

Extend your trip for a few extra days in Auckland if you didn’t get enough of their city life.

Nicole Albertson

Contributor

Nicole is based in San Francisco and she has amazing recommendations for Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Iceland, and New Zealand.

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