This New Zealand North Island itinerary is jam packed with things to do, where to stay, best photo stops, a map of our route and more to ensure your New Zealand road trip is epic. In comparison to the South, the North Island offers warmer temperatures, more beaches, geothermal activity that will blow your mind and the majority of the Maori population stay there too.
We spent 3 weeks exploring the South Island before our two week North Island road trip began and despite being asked so many times, we couldn’t choose an island we prefer. If you have time, we really recommend your New Zealand road trip includes both islands as they are equally incredible yet entirely unique!
This post is long in order to squeeze in as much info as possible, feel free to ask us any questions you have in the comments or if we missed out any of your favourite places to visit in the North Island let us know!
BEFORE YOUR NEW ZEALAND NORTH ISLAND ITINERARY BEGINS
Where to find Car Hire
Before your North Island road trip commences you’ll need to decide how to get around. If you are hiring a car, we recommend using Skyscanner. Remember if you are hiring a car, you will need to pay for accommodation on route or pack a tent and camp on the North Island. You could also hire a car between a group to split the cost of hire + fuel to make your North Island road trip even cheaper.
Compare car hire prices at Skyscanner
Campervan Hire North Island
We feel the best way to enjoy a North Island road trip is in a campervan. We hired wee Cathy from Traveller’s Autobarn, they were affordable and we couldn’t fault their customer service. If you want a few hacks for finding cheap campervan hire we created the ultimate guide to New Zealand in a campervan which shares everything you need to know about cheap rental, campervan tips, routes, campsites & even cooking hacks!
Why not take our campervan cookbook with you?
- Recipes with ideas for breakfast, lunch & dinner
- Digital E-book so you can download instantly
- Use offline on your phone, tablet, laptop or print off
- Recipe ideas without the need for bulky cookbooks or Wi-Fi
Apps to Download
As our New Zealand North Island itinerary is super detailed, we don’t expect you to remember it all. With limited Wi-Fi on the road however, you may struggle to refer back to this guide also, so using Google Maps you can star our suggestions which create a North Island itinerary for you to use offline.
Our best apps for backpackers guide shares more benefits of using Google Stars as well as the apps that saved us time, money and stress during our North Island road trip.
Road Trip Essentials
On the topic of saving time, money and stress don’t forget these road trip essentials. After road trippin’ round the world we created this guide to help others decide what to pack. It also includes our tried & tested packing list which can be downloaded to your phone – ideal for a North Island road trip when Wi-Fi is scarce.
Map of Our North Island Itinerary
NEW ZEALAND ACCOMMODATION - NORTH ISLAND
Camping on the North Island
As our New Zealand North Island itinerary was on a budget we camped our way around the island. This proved to also be the best way to truly appreciate the stunning scenery of New Zealand – especially if you enjoy sunrises or stargazing.
Not to mention, cost. Camping is the cheapest accommodation option on the North Island as free campsites are easy to find, once you rent your car or van you could essentially not pay a penny for accommodation.
We put together a North Island camping guide which not only shares our favourite campsites but also camping tips and even a free cheat sheet you can download to help you find the best campsites during your New Zealand North Island road trip.
Don’t forget these camping essentials if you are heading for tent life.
We get camping is not for everyone so if you are looking for accommodation on budget for your North island itinerary then Airbnb can be a good compromise. This is because you will have access to kitchen facilities, keeping your food cost down as you won’t need to eat out. It also means you’ll have the home comforts you won’t find with camping and staying with locals usually results in them sharing the best shortcuts or hidden gems.
Booking.comYou may not realise that many of the North Island campgrounds can be booked online with Booking.com. In peak season, it is essential to book your campsite in advance as sites nearest the main attractions can book up months in advance. During our North island road trip we used the site for campsite deals but also find it the best place for budget accommodation in general. As a tip, enter your location then filter “price – low to high” but also filter by rating “highest first” as this is the best way to find the cheapest but highest rated accommodation.
Book your next hotel through Booking.com.
DAY 1: FERRY FROM PICTON TO WELLINGTON
Ferry From South to North
Our final stop on our South Island road trip was Picton, from here it took 3 hours on the ferry to Wellington on the North Island.
Our ferry ticket was actually included in our campervan hire (read how we wangled our campervan hire in New Zealand here.) However it usually costs up to NZ$200.00 – NZ$300.00 for a small campervan and anything from NZ$50.00 – NZ$75.00 per person without a vehicle. The ferry runs up to 4 times per day between Picton and Wellington. More details here.
We arrived mid-afternoon, hunted down a camping ground in Wellington (which turned out to be one of our favourite North Island campgrounds) and planned how we were going to spend our 2 weeks in New Zealand.
DAY 2: A DAY IN WELLINGTON
Wellington was definitely one of our favourite places to visit in New Zealand, North Island – a creative, colourful city with so much to see and do. We spent the entire day here and stayed a second night in the same campsite (more on that later) Here are our highlights from Wellington…
The Weta Cave
The Weta Cave is one of the most popular things to do in Wellington, especially if you’re into Lord of The Rings. The workshop is essentially a collection of movie memorabilia, costumes, props and special effects from their films over the years. From our campsite, it was only a 7 minute drive to the Weta Cave.
You can take a tour of the Weta Workshop (starting at approx. NZ$30.00 for the shortest tour) or if you’re on a budget it is completely free to enter Weta Cave gift shop area and take photos with the figures outside, watch the fascinating documentary as well as admire props and costumes from various films such as King Kong, Spiderman and Avatar.
Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa)
The Museum of New Zealand is not only the best things to do in Wellington but with over 1.5 million visitors a year it’s one of the most popular things to do on your NZ North island road trip. Best of all it’s completely free! We spent much longer here than we expected, intrigued by the artwork, artefacts and insight into Maori culture and New Zealand’s history.
Explore The Wellington Street Art
We loved the street art in Wellington thanks to their Arts on Walls programme. Although there are murals popping up all over the city, the David Bowie mural on the side of Jam Hair Co on Ghuznee Street was a definite highlight and one not to be missed from your New Zealand North Island Itinerary! Created by artist Xoë Hall it even had glittery eye shadow and was neighboured by some equally fabulous murals!
Enjoy Cuba Street
An unmissable stop in Wellington is Cuba Street. It’s the vibrant hub of all things “Welly” and is an eclectic mix of hipster cafes, colourful shops and the best spot to people watch. Super hungry from our street art exploring, we decided to treat ourselves to lunch in Wellington at Ombra and we were so glad we did as it was some of the best risotto we’ve ever had!
In the afternoon we also stopped at a Wellington icon – Fidels. Such a quirky wee find, we loved the décor, staff and vibe and really recommend stopping for a milkshake or much needed coffee and unbeatable cake before your hike up Mount Victoria.
Mount Victoria Lookout
It is a well known fact that Wellington is one of the windiest places to visit in New Zealand’s North Island and the best way to test this is a hike up Mount Victoria. If you are short on time, you can drive up or hike from the bush-covered Town Belt if you fancy more of a challenge. As well as leaving you windswept, it will also give you the most beautiful views of Tinakori Hill, the Hutt Valley, Eastern harbour bays, Somes Island and the Miramar Peninsula.
Botanical Gardens & Wellington Cable Car
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from our New Zealand North Island itinerary, it’s not to trust Google Maps following our attempt to find the Wellington Cable Car.
Instead of directing us to the bottom stop at Lambton Quay, we unknowingly ended up at the top stop (in Kelburn) and had to take the cable car all the way down the hill instead of the tiring trek up (kind of defeats the purpose of a cable car).
Regardless of this mishap, we really enjoyed our walk through the Botanical Garden and then down in the cable car – and for only NZ$4.50!
Campsite: Camp Wellington
If looking for a campsite in Wellington, this is ideal as it’s only 15 minutes from the city centre and you have penguins on your doorstep. The owner is so friendly offering all guests a free coffee voucher for the Chocolate Fish Café, which was nearby. His passion for van life was so inspiring – he used to convert campervans until making his dream of opening a campsite a reality!
DAY 3: WELLINGTON - NAPIER - HASTINGS
Mount Victoria Tunnel
During our North Island road trip we found ourselves on some unique roads, but the Mount Victoria Tunnel is particularly unusual. Before you depart Wellington as you drive through you must beep your horn through the Mount Victoria Tunnel. The tooting tradition is apparently in memory of 17-year-old Phillis Symons who was buried alive in there while the tunnel was being built in 1931.
Things to do in Napier
No New Zealand North island itinerary would be complete without a nose at Napier. Famous for it’s beautiful Art Deco architecture, it was a definite highlight from our North island road trip – my friend loved it so much she stayed here for 6 months when backpacking New Zealand.
After a devastating earthquake in 1931, the majority of the town was rebuilt resulting in pretty pastel coloured buildings and fascinating facades. Highlights include the zigzag-patterned Daily Telegraph Building and the promenade along the waterfront called Marine Parade for a scenic stroll.
We conveniently visited during Napier Art Deco Festival so were treated to an amazing day with bustling streets, friendly locals and live music. We’d imagine on any ordinary day it’s a little more sleepy although non the less beautiful to explore.
If you are visiting on a festival-free day, there are some amazing ways to enjoy Napier such as:
- Vintage Bus Tour: Forget the dull hop on, hop off tourist buses, explore the Art Deco highlights of Napier in a 1930’s vintage bus. More info here.
- Art Deco Walking Tour with Local Guide: What better way to learn about this beautiful place than with a local. This 2.5 hour guided tour is guaranteed to answer all your questions and share all you need to know about Napier’s fascinating history. Book Here.
- Napier Tour with Wine Tasting & Chocolate: Not that we don’t like walking tours, but we are more likely to join if wine & chocolate is involved. This full day tour includes both wineries and a chocolate factory as well as a tour of Napier. More info here.
- Napier Tour in a Vintage Car: We spent hours admiring and photographing the vintage cars during the Art Deco Festival in Napier – little did we know you can hop onboard one and tour the town! What better way to learn about the Art Deco history, than being inside history itself! Book Here.
Campsite: Ballymena Driveway, Hastings
The joy of the campermate app is that not only does it show you free and paid camping grounds in New Zealand but it shows you a few hidden gems such as private driveways and farms.
Ballymena Driveway was like this – the owner had a spare field next to her house and an outdoor bathroom which she allowed travellers to use. For a peaceful, clean site with power & Wi-Fi it was NZ$25.00 per night.
DAY 4: NAPIER - TAUPO - TAURANGI
We drove from our campsite in Hastings to Aratiatia Rapids which took around 2 hours. Aratiatia Rapids are one of the most popular natural attractions in New Zealand and we guarantee you will be mesmerised if you squeeze in a visit during your North Island road trip.
You will witness thousands of litres of water be released from the Aratiatia Dam, creating an insane surge of water that flows through a narrow gorge transforming it in minutes. There are dedicated times to watch the dam open and close depending on the season (see below.)
It’s incredibly exciting to either stand on the bridge or take the short hike to the view point to watch the magic happen – a must see during your NZ North island itinerary.
- Summer Release times (October to March): 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm
- Winter Release times (April to September): 10am, 12pm, 2pm
Day 4 of your North island itinerary is definitely one for wild waters as it is just a 10 minute drive from Aratiatia Dam to Huka Falls. Although we tried to capture it, our photos do not do these insane falls justice. The sheer size and striking colour of this natural phenomenon make it a definite must see in your New Zealand North Island itinerary.
Nearly 250,000 litres blast through the gorge PER SECOND – you will honestly hear the falls from the minute you step out the car. We could’ve stood and watched for hours and can completely understand why Huka Falls is said to be the most visited natural attraction of all New Zealand North Island attractions.
After Huka Falls it was back in the campervan for a short 10 minute drive to Taupo. There are so much things to do in Taupo, however I think we chose the most random two of all – golfing into a lake and dining in the World’s coolest McDonalds.
Firstly, we didn’t just title Taupo’s McDonald’s the World’s Coolest – it is voted number 1 as it’s inside an aeroplane. Even more amusing, we had no idea this existed, so literally stumbled across an aeroplane McDonalds in the street, apologies for spoiling the surprise but definitely add a Mcflurry inside a plane to your North Island itinerary.
Hole in One Challenge – Lake Taupo
Despite being Scottish and golf being one of the many reasons to visit Scotland we are absolutely hopeless at the sport. Yet, for some reason we felt obliged to pay NZ$25.00 for 25 balls and take part in Lake Taupo’s Hole in One Challenge.
The aim was to whack the ball from the shore, into a hole in the centre of the Lake in the hope you’d win the NZ$10,000 prize. I’d like to lie and say we came close, but truthfully there were several balls that barely rolled off the shore (cheers Loz).
Some may argue a pointless waste of money and others may agree one of the most hilarious ways to spend an hour in your North Island road trip. Not to mention, the potential to boost your holiday fund.
All that hilarity and McDonald’s munching didn’t prepare us well for the big day we had ahead lined up for day 5 of our North island itinerary. We drove from Lake Taupo to Turangi which took around 45 minutes and we had a chilled evening trying to mentally prepare ourselves for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
TIP: If you head on the State Highway 47 around 13km past Turangi you will come to Opotaka. The Ka Mate Haka (the Haka performed by the All Blacks) was in fact started in Opotaka. It is a historical Maori pa site where you can learn about the history of the Haka as well as admire the views of Mt Tongariro which we were away to attempt the following day.
Campsite: Tongariro Junction, Turangi
If you plan on doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (which you 1000% should) this is the best Tongariro crossing accommodation as it’s on the gateway to the National Park so you are super close for the early start.
It also had the most incredible showers we encountered during our entire North Island road trip – they were so powerful that it made the pricey NZ$45.00 fee for the campsite worth it. The campsite also had Wi-Fi, power & offered a Tongariro crossing shuttle bus however already had ours booked with Mountain Shuttle prior to arrival and it proved to be a little cheaper.
DAY 5: TURANGI - HIKING TONGARIRO - MANGAOKEWA RESERVE
Hiking The Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the most challenging yet rewarding things to do during your NZ North Island itinerary. Although we thought our many hikes on Oahu would have trained us well, Tongariro was the longest hike we’d ever done at 19.4km. We read several guides and packed an epic picnic to prepare ourselves, yet in all honesty the hike wasn’t as difficult as we expected.
Firstly you park your car or van, then take a Tongariro Crossing shuttle bus to the start of the Tongariro Crossing and then hike back to your car. Unlike most hikes where you hike to a summit then return, it’s a hike across volcanic terrain from one point to another.
This means you end at a different point than where you started and will pass the most incredible views such as the famous “Mount Doom” (Mt Ngauruhoe) and Emerald Lakes.
We left at 8am and were back by 1pm although the weather was on our side, it was sunny yet cool which definitely helped the track conditions. We also find the track reasonably quiet compared to photos we’d seen online, this may have been as we hiked it in Mid March.
For a better insight into hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing we recommend watching our video, although watching those views through a screen really cannot do it justice. Over and over again, when asked for a highlight from our entire New Zealand road trip – this is it!
Following our hike we drove to Taumarunui to use a public swimming pool for a shower (the campermate app is great for this – it shows on a map nearest showers, public toilets etc.)
We then headed to Mangaokewa Reserve for our camp for the night, which was our only free campground on the North Island but was one of our favourite campsites from our entire New Zealand North Island itinerary.
Campsite: Mangaokewa Scenic Reserve, Mangaokewa
One of the best things about freedom camping in New Zealand is the views. As most free campsites are out with towns and a little off the beaten track, they provide the most incredible spots for star gazing which is the reason we loved Mangaokewa Scenic Reserve so much. It also had a FLUSH toilet – a rare specimen in free campsites and a nearby bush walk with waterfalls. Our night here was a definite highlight of our NZ North island itinerary, if you can stay here more than one night!
DAY 6: MAGAOKEWA RESERVE - WAITOMO - MATAMATA - WAIKITE
We were up bright and early for our busy day ahead which turned out to be one of the best days in our New Zealand North Island itinerary! From our beautiful campsite at Mangaokewa Reserve we drove to Waitomo which took around 20 minutes.
Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
Waitomo is famous for its glowworm tours and there are numerous tour companies to choose from. Some offers large tours (we’re talking 60+ people) however we opted for Cave World tour of Footwhistle caves as it is a more intimate affair with around 12 people per tour.
Although generally, the more popular tours have more glowworms but we weren’t too keen on cramming through underground tunnels with that many people so it depends what your preferences are.
We were picked up from the Waitomo tourist information and after a short drive arrived at Footwhistle caves. Our guide was friendly and informative and although we enjoyed the tour, we did find it more exciting seeing them in the rainforest in Franz Josef during our South Island road trip (and it was free).
After a wander through the caves we were treated to a traditional Kawakawa tea tasting in a ponga hut which was an unexpected bonus, before the 1 hour 20 minute drive to Matamata also known as “The Shire” to Lord of The Rings fans.
TIP: Please be a responsible traveller and do not use flash photography in the caves. You might even be advised to keep all phones/cameras in your bag to avoid disturbance to the worms. If you are allowed to photograph them, read up on a few photography tips (such as this guide) first as they are super hard to capture on camera without the perfect settings.
Matamata – Hobbiton Tour
Confession time: I have never seen a single Lord of the Rings Movie yet still loved every minute of our Hobbiton Tour. Although so many people plan their NZ North island itinerary around this visit, I genuinely thought it would be boring. I was so SO wrong.
Firstly, we took a Hobbiton themed bus from Matamata (included in ticket price) which played a documentary on route explaining the history of “The Shire”. Once we arrived, I ashamedly was the only one in our group who hadn’t seen a single film but our guide was hilarious, helpful and dare I say it – so fascinating!
Is Hobbiton worth the price?
Although Daz has seen all the films and he initially dragged me to Hobbiton, he even proclaimed it far exceeded expectation as it didn’t feel like a Disneyland style set but more of an actual village.
The highlight was the free beer in the village pub which was again (like the morning tea at the glow worms) an unexpected inclusion of the ticket price. You are also allowed to film and photograph until your hearts content which is often prohibited in these style tours. We would 1000% say that visiting Hobbiton is an absolute must for any NZ north island road trip – whether you’ve seen the films or not, you’ll enjoy this surreal place.
Campsite: Waikite Valley Thermal Pools, Waikite
The cherry on top of this epic day, was our campsite for the night at Waikite Valley thermal pools. That’s right a THERMAL SPA within in a campsite, we take it back… maybe our North Island road trip beats the South Island.
Although we paid NZ$54.00 for a powered site here (& no Wi-Fi) this allowed free access to the thermal spa on site which was such a welcome treat after a busy day being Hobbits.
Not only that, there is also a Nature Eco-walk over the thermal spring which provides the boiling water. We did the walk the following morning and found it so fascinating. A definite highlight from all the North Island camping grounds we visited.
DAY 7: WAIKITE - ROTORUA - TAURANGA
The drive from Waikite to Rotorua took only 30 minutes. The area of Rotorua is bustling with geothermal activity and traditional Maori culture. If you are on a family road trip of the North Island, there are so many things to do in Rotorua with kids, that you’ll want to stop for a few days here – sadly our itinerary wouldn’t allow for longer, but here’s what we got up to.
Lady Knox Geyser
Lady Knox Geyser was our first stop of the day, be warned as it is a “New Zealand North Island must see” therefor can get incredibly busy. Right enough, despite arriving early (9.45am) we squeezed on some of the very last seats.
Although the geyser itself was impressive (it shoots 10-20m in the air), we didn’t realise it was instrumented manually and in fact a chemical is inserted to ensure the geyser performs on cue at 10.15am each day. We felt a tad cheated as it wasn’t natural, however it was part of our Wai-O-Tapu ticket which was an unforgettable experience so we’ll let them off.
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is a must see in New Zealand North Island itinerary for a thermal show like no other. From the Devil’s Pool to bubbling champagne pools, walking through Wai-O-Tapu will feel like walking through a different planet.
If you can get over the smell of sulphur, you are in for an unforgettable day as at 18sq km it is the largest geothermal park in New Zealand and one of the most unique things to do in New Zealand’s North Island.
Whakarewarewa – The Living Maori Village
Following the cutest wee stop for lunch at nearby Peppers Café ran by the friendliest old couple, we headed to Whakarewarewa New Zealand’s only living Maori village. No New Zealand North Island itinerary would be complete without an insight to the country’s Maori culture and this was a fascinating yet fun way to do just that.
The tour is led by a local resident as they explain what life is like growing up in a Maori village as well as the traditions and ceremonies Maori life involves. During our visit we witnessed Pohutu Geyser which “went off” naturally and also learned how the village use the geothermal energy for everyday life.
The tour finishes off with a traditional performance which showcased historical songs (Waiata) and rhythmic chants known as Patere as well as games, poi dancing and the famous Haka.
TIP: Nearby there is also Te Puia Maori Village, which offers traditional entertainment (including an evening dinner and performance package) as well as guided tours and more. Read More about the tours and dinner packages here.
Campsite: Fernland Spa, Tauranga
Following the theme of thermal activity and still mesmerised from our campsite the night before, we headed to Tauranga to stay at Fernland Spa. Just when we thought we had reached our peak of campsites on the North Island, Fernland Spa became a very close contender for the top spot.
It too had a thermal pool which was huge and surprisingly quiet despite also being open to the public as well as campers. It was also cheaper than Waikite Valley at only NZ$40.00 a night and included free Wi-Fi which was the best from our entire North Island itinerary.
DAY 8: TAURANGA - HOT WATER BEACH - WAIPU
Hot Water Beach
We were relieved to have such a relaxing sleep, as this was a big day of driving. Our first drive of the day was from Tauranga to Hot Water Beach which took around 2 hours.
As the name describes, on Hot Water Beach when you dig a hole in the in certain areas, it fills with warm water. To be honest it was a fun 5 minutes or so to paddle in it but the weather wasn’t the best to strip off and bathe in the warm water. It is best to visit either 2 hours before or 2 hours after low tide for the best experience.
The beach itself is beautiful so we enjoyed a long walk and a giggle at other tourists equally as baffled as us trying to find a “hot spot”.
Coromandel Peninsula – Cathedral Cove
From one famous beach to the next, it was only a 10 minute drive to the highlight of any North island road trip – Cathedral Cove. Situated in the famous Coromandel Peninsula, Cathedral Cove attracts over 500,000 visitors a year.
The car park is closed during peak season from 1 October – 30 April so we parked in the alternative Visitor Car Park on Pa Road (turn right just after entering Hahei).
We then walked up Grange Road which felt like forever (approx. 20 mins) before realising shuttle busses run regularly for NZ$5.00 return. They will take you to the top of Grange Road which is the start of the Cathedral Cove track.
The walk to Cathedral Cove from the top of Grange Road should take around 1.5 hours (return.) If you’re short on time, you can also admire the scenery from the view point instead. We then headed back to our van via a wee ice cream stop on route.
It was then time for the long drive from Coromandel Peninsula to Waipu which was going to take 4 hours. Our aim was to reach the most Northern point during our North Island road trip so we needed to make a fairly big dent in the drive as we were running short on time.
Campsite: The Rose & Thistle Inn (Waipu Hotel) Waipu
We stayed here for one night however, in hindsight we would’ve stayed near Cathedral Cove or anywhere on Coromandel Peninsula as the area was so beautiful. We then would’ve continued the drive North the following day, so recommend this as a better option.
DAY 9: WAIPU - AHIPARA
An Attempt to Reach Cape Reinga
As we had made it to the most Southernly point on our South Island road trip our mission for day 9 of our New Zealand North Island itinerary was to keep heading up to the most Northerly point – Cape Reinga.
As well as being the Northern most point, Cape Reinga is also where you can witness the natural phenomenon of two seas colliding as it is where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet. In order to reach Cape Reinga however, there is only one road in and out or if you are not in a hire car you can also drive on the famous 90 mile beach.
As mentioned we were travelling New Zealand in a campervan so we were following the road until suddenly we were stopped and told to turn back. Assuming it was a road accident we planned to set up camp nearby until the road was clear in the morning, this was until we were told the road had literally been swept away due to heavy rainfall literally moments before we got there.
We were so grateful for our short pee stop at Pukenui on route, otherwise we would have been at the opposite side of the Cape Reinga road and therefor stuck in the North until the road was repaired (or forced to drive on the beach, against our campervan hire policy).
Had we made it, there was a few things we wished to tick off our NZ North Island road trip such as:
- Witnessing the natural phenomenon of The Tasman Sea colliding with the Pacific Ocean
- The pohutukawa tree believed to be over 800 years old
- Cape Reinga lighthouse
Please fulfil our North Island road trip bucket list and let us know if you manage to tick these off where we didn’t!
Our bad luck continued as we attempted to hunt down a campsite as many were flooded or fully booked by the numerous campervans and motorhomes also stuck like us. We found an absolute gem however called Ahipara Holiday Park where we spent the evening doing what we do best – eating.
Campsite: Ahipara Holiday Park – Ahipara
Although this was not meant to be part of our North Island itinerary, we are so glad we stopped here. The colourful Ahipara Holiday Park was a literal ray of sunshine after such a miserable day.
Not only did it have free gas BBQs but also unlimited free Wi-Fi. Needless to say we abused the latter due to the rain. There was also a great communal kitchen and huge comfy sofas with a fire put on in Winter which looked so inviting.
It cost NZ$37.80 for a powered site (we’d a little discount thanks to our Kiwi membership).
DAY 10 & 11: AHIPARA - KERIKERI
We’re no strangers to waking up in unusual places (We do love quirky accommodation) however, I particularly loved waking up on my birthday in a campervan and we were ready for a birthday to remember for the next few days of our New Zealand north island itinerary.
Our first stop of the day was to drive to nearby Rainbow Falls (in Māori their name is Waianiwaniwa.) They are a single-drop waterfall located on the Kerikeri River around a 7 minute drive from Kerikeri.
Although it is a short walk from the car to the viewpoint, we heard the roar of the falls from the minute we pulled up. Rainbow Falls looked particularly impressive due to the heavy rain we’d encountered recently on our north island road trip. I suppose that was one advantage of our wild weather experience as in in Summer these falls can resemble a mere trickle.
We read that the falls are popular with kayakers and you’re even able to swim in the basin below – it would definitely not have been safe to do so during our visit, so always check the DOC website if you plan on a more adventurous visit.
Following Rainbow Falls we drove to Kerikeri, where there are lots of amazing things to do but as it was my birthday we did what we do best – eat and shop.
We went for an amazing birthday brunch at Café Zest and then decided to split up for an hour and give each other the challenge of buying a birthday gift with only $20 in Kerikeri. Daz’s birthday is 2 days after mine so we booked a wee glamping adventure for the next few days which was hands down the most magical experience from our NZ north island itinerary.
Campsite: Takou River Lodge, Kerikeri
Although we loved travelling New Zealand in a campervan, we wanted to find a quirky yet cute place to spend our birthdays as a wee treat from van life. Takou River lodge was unbelievable and to this day one of the most tranquil retreats we’ve ever been to – it was even voted in one of the top ten luxury lodges in New Zealand!
Not only did we have access to kayaks for a short paddle to Takou Bay but a rooftop bath which we used both in the sunshine and under the stars.
We loved every minute of our two days/nights here and cannot recommend it enough if you’re looking for a romantic escape in your New Zealand north island itinerary.
DAY 12: KERIKERI TO WHANGATEAU
After our unforgettable birthdays, it was time to head back South towards Auckland as the end of our North Island road trip was near. From Takou River Lodge (nearby Kerikeri) to Whangateau took 3 hours. After the long drive, we chilled for the afternoon continuing our birthday celebrations at the amazing Whangateau Holiday Park.
Campsite: Whangateau Holiday Park, Whangateau
This was our last campsite in our New Zealand North Island itinerary but by no means least. The views from Whangateau Holiday Park were a definite highlight as it’s located on the shoreline of Matakana & Kowhai coast, you’re camped literally on the beach.
For only NZ$35.20 (with Campermate discount) we had a large powered site, although you can pay a little extra to have an ocean front pitch. There are great communal facilities such as a kitchen/dining area and TV room as well as clean, hot showers although remember coins as they are NZ$0.50 each.
DAY 13: WHANGATEAU - AUCKLAND
For the last day in our New Zealand North Island itinerary we drove from Whangateau Holiday Park to Auckland which only took about 1 hour. This gave us the whole day to explore Auckland which was a little shock to the system to be back in such a big city after so long!
Aotea Square is a large paved public area in the CBD used for concerts, festivals and events so check if there’s anything on during your time in Auckland.
Things To Do in Auckland
- Aotea Square is a large paved public area in the CBD used for concerts, festivals and events so check the schedule here if there is anything on during your time in Auckland.
- Auckland Sky Tower: At 328m high, Auckland Tower offers the best views over the city. Your ticket includes access to all 3 observation platforms – the perfect way to end your 2 week North island itinerary.
- Whale & Dolphin Watching: This 4.5 hour eco-cruise allows you to witness these incredible creatures in their natural habitat just off the coast of Auckland, all while comfortably onboard a luxury catamaran.
- Tandem Skydiving over Auckland: If the view from the Auckland Sky Tower wasn’t high enough, what better way to end your NZ north island road trip than hopping out of a plane at 16,000 ft!? Needless to say we didn’t brave it, but sky diving is one of the most popular things to do in New Zealand.
- Auckland Harbor Cruise: If you’d prefer to stay firmly on the ground (well, sort of) a cruise of Auckland Harbor is an ideal way to see the city in a different way. The 1.5 hour cruise showcases the best views of the city and even includes afternoon tea.
Kelly Tarltons Aquarium
As we had spent the past few days of our north island itinerary doing nothing but eating birthday cake and driving, we decided to enjoy the sunshine by taking the 1.5 hour walk from Auckland CBD to Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium.
It was such an enjoyable way to see Auckland from a different view and of course, there were penguins at the aquarium, so we were happy to walk for nearly 2 hours to see those little fellas.
After quite some time chatting to the penguins, we were thankful there is actually a shuttle bus (that looks like a shark) that will take you back to Auckland CBD to save another 1.5 hour walk.
Our afternoon in Auckland was cut a little short as we were meeting Darren’s relatives nearby, however we regret not spending more time here as we quickly fell in love with this city.
Campsite: Darren’s Relative
After an incredible roast dinner with Darren’s relatives, we spent the last night of our tour of New Zealand in a campervan in their garden instead of a campsite. If you are looking for campsites near Auckland however, this guide will help.
DAY 14-15: NEW ZEALAND TO AUSTRALIA
Woohoo we made it to the end of our North Island itinerary and you made it to the end of this huge post. Sadly it was time to officially say bye to Cathy the campervan after an incredible New Zealand road trip and welcome a real double bed and ensuite bathroom at the Holiday Inn near Auckland Airport.
After the busiest few weeks of our lives, it was time to fly from Auckland to Melbourne to begin our Working Holiday Visa and our adventure camping in Australia. We loved campervanning round New Zealand so much, we actually hired the exact same in Kuga campervan from Traveller’s Autobarn in Australia too. Although we did need to learn a few tips on keeping cool in the van as our Oz road trip was ALOT hotter than this one!
Let us know how your NZ North island road trip goes and if you find any more hidden gems along the way, we’re constantly looking for excuses to return to improve this guide.
This Post Has 21 Comments
Wow! What an amazing trip. I have not been to New Zealand yet, so I didn’t realize how much there is to see. When I make it there I will probably not have as long as you did, so I will have to prioritize. I definitely want to see the cities, Cathedral Cove, and the glowworm cave.
I don’t think there is a single I wouldn’t do on this itinerary! It’s amazing. There is a lovely mix of city and nature, relaxing and adventurous! This must have been an incredible journey.
Thank you – such kind words! It was our best adventure (yet)
We were there only for one week and could only did something in the upper part. We spent other two weeks in the southern island. Next time we would visit the north island and plan a longer time, when I see there are so many things to do.
I travelled the north island a few years ago, visited Rotorua and my clothes smelt of the sulphur for days after. Was incredible though. I never got a chance to see Huka Falls but if I go back i’ll add it to my list, it looks incredible.
The sulphur smell definitely sticks to you for quite some time – although I agree it is worth it 😉
New Zealand looks amazing! One of my girlfriends was born and raised in Samoa. She went to New Zealand often and told me how beautiful it is. I can tell from these photos that she wasn’t exaggerating. The glow worm cave sounds intriguing! I’m pretty sure that I’d want to hang out in the rooftop bath both day and night too. I haven’t tried glamping, but I’ve been researching places nearby for a getaway once winter subsides.
Glamping is so much fun, even in Winter as there are so many yurts with wood burning stoves or gypsy wagons with fire pits. Definitely check out the site called Canopy & Stars – they are a collection of glamping spots around the world to suit all seasons and tastes!
Wow this sounds like such an amazing road trip on New Zealands North Island!! The Tongariro Alpine Crossing looks especially gorgeous. It’s nice to know that Hobbiton isn’t too much like a theme park as it looks adorable and I would love to visit! Definitely will be saving this itinerary for if I ever make it to New Zealand!
Fingers crossed you make it one day, it will not disappoint!
This looks like such an amazing trip! Your photos are amazing. I especially appreciate all the recommendations for best campsites in each spot, makes planning really easy. Thanks!
Finding good camping spots is probably the hardest part of road tripping in New Zealand – we wanted to create the style of post we wished we had before we went!
I have not been to New Zealand yet but my partner has. He only visited the north island but did not squeeze as much in as your guys. I am so pleased you mentioned the Waitomo glow caves as that was his highlight. I will be pinning this for my planning stages of our trip there one day!
Waitomo caves are definitely surreal – we haven’t experienced anything like it and unlikely we will again. Fingers crossed you get to visit one day!
I’ve heard other people say too that they’ve never seen LOTR but loved visiting Hobbiton! I’m going to NZ for my honeymoon later this year but will probably only have about 1 week in the north island and 1 week in the south island. If you had to pare down your north island itinerary into one week, what would you say are the must see spots? We’re much more into hiking and nature than the cities, but it sounded like you really liked Wellington… and I’m guessing that would be a logical starting point anyway. Thanks for any advice you can give!
Wow – what a perfect place for a honeymoon! I would 100% return in a heartbeat! For the North I’d say must see is the Thermal Wonderland (and book a private thermal spa, there are so many to choose from) also the Tongariro Crossing was a highlight from our entire trip! Our accommodation Takou River lodge was unforgettable, a dream location for a honeymoon with the outdoor bath tubs under the stars but also private kayaking too! Let me know if you have any questions 🙂
Wow I am so impressed with all you were able to do during your time in New Zealand. This is such a comprehensive and detailed guide. It seems like you were right both island look incredible so it would be hard to choose.
It is so hard to choose, both are incredible for different reasons!
Wow you were able to do so much during your time in New Zealand! This is such a comprehensive guide. That ice cream cone looks to die for.
We squeezed in so much and still feel there is so much more to see!
Awesome itinerary! Having traveled extensively in New Zealand (where I now live) you definitely saw the highlights! The onkybthibg I would add if you have time in Most traumatic and the Coromandel peninsula, but hey, I’ve seen heaps of New Zealand but there’s still more places I want to go!