Three itineraries for the North island of New Zealand

After 20 days on the South Island, we have 5 days left for the North Island. Not that many days at all, but we don’t regret this 20/5 distribution. Unfortunately, the weather is not so good on the North Island, while it was beautiful on the South Island. Normally this is the other way around. In this blog, I describe our itinerary for the North Island, and also two alternative itineraries for when you have more time. When you are curious about our route for the South Island, click here.


Itinerary 1: 5 days the North Island (our route)

Click here or on the image below to see the itinerary of our 5 days on the North Island. This schedule shows our activities, the campsites where we slept, how much we paid for this and our travel time.

Itinerary New Zealand 5 days

Wellington & Turangi (1 day)

Early in the morning, we take the ferry from Picton toward Wellington (Bluebridge). Our campervan is also on board. When booking at Spaceships we have indicated to deliver it back in Auckland. The crossing takes 3 hours and is very beautiful, sometimes you can even see dolphins while sailing.

Wellington is one of the largest cities in New Zealand. After all the small villages of the past 20 days, it is fun but also busy to be in such a big city. We stay here for a few hours, but the city is definitely worth a stay for one or more days. A must visit in Wellington is the New Zealand Museum Te Papa Tongarewa. This is a large and interactive museum with many changing exhibitions.

We then drive to Turangi in four hours, because we want to walk the Tongariro Crossing the next day. Turangi is not recommended, nor is our campsite. We actually wanted to sleep at the Whakapapa Holiday Park, but it is already fully booked.

Tongariro National Park (1 day)

The next day we walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, encountering three active volcanoes and several volcanic lakes. This is one of the most beautiful and famous hikes in New Zealand. The hike is not easy, but even if you don’t like to hike, it’s worth it. You can find tips about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing at the bottom of this blog.

Given the short time we have on the North Island, and the bad weather forecasts, we drive up to the Coromandel Peninsula (Bay of Plenty) in the afternoon. We end up in Athenree on a nice campsite with natural hot springs.

Waihi, Tauranga, McLaren Falls Parc (1 day)

Athenree is a village near Waihi, a nice beach village where you can learn how to surf. Unfortunately, the weather remains bad, and it is too cold to be on the beach. If the weather is nice, stay in this region for several days and continue north towards Cathedral Cove. Here it seems to be really beautiful (see also route alternative 1 below).

We drive in the afternoon to the big city of Tauranga, but this isn’t a recommendation. We end the day in McLaren Falls Park, a great campsite for when you also plan to visit Hobbiton. You can camp in this beautiful nature park, even if you are not self-contained. There are toilets and showers.

Hobbiton (1 day)

Yes, this is a must visit when you are in New Zealand! Confession: I have never seen a Lord of The Rings / Hobbiton film myself, but even I liked this a lot. You will receive a tour around the film set of the village of Hobbiton. It was really fun, with a lot of attention to detail. The tour ends at the Green Dragon Inn, the pub in Hobbiton. We booked the tickets one day in advance, but we’re flexible in terms of times. If you are not, book several days in advance to be sure of a place.

It has been raining for a few days now, so we decide to continue towards Auckland. In Auckland itself the campsites are very expensive, so we end up at an uninviting campsite half an hour from Auckland.

Read more about our visit to Hobbiton here (only in Dutch).

Auckland (2 days)

Our last (wet) days are in Auckland. Auckland is fun for two days. It is not very big. Be sure to visit the Ponsonby district where you can eat and shop. In addition, the center and the port are also nice to walk around. We really wanted to go to Waiheke Island, but unfortunately, it’s raining too hard. Here you could sunbathe, visit vineyards and rest. You reach this island with the Fullers ferry (10 NZD). Are you looking for a beach in Auckland, go to Mission Bay. Over there you can also have a good lunch or diner at one of the many restaurants.


Alternative routes

Do you have more time? Lucky you! There is plenty to see and do on the North Island. Hereby two itineraries for about two weeks on the North Island. Underneath the pictures is described what you will do in every location.

Itinerary 2: Two weeks on the North Island

Wellington – Napier – Hawke’s Bay – Taupo – Tongariro – Rotorua – Hobbiton – Coromandel Peninsula – Bay of Islands – Ompare – Auckland

New Zealand North island Itinerary 2 weeks 1

Click on the image or here to see this itinerary. This schedule shows some campsites, activities and the travel time between the different places. Offcourse you can also reverse this itinerary, going down instead of upwards.

You start in Wellington, where you arrive around noon after the crossing from Picton. You go for a nice lunch, visit the New Zealand Museum Te Papa Tongarewa and enjoy this vibrant city. In the evening you drive out of the city, towards a campsite in the small village of Paraparaumo. Here the campsites are cheaper and better than in the Wellington area.

Napier and Hawke’s Bay (2 days)

The next day you leave for Napier, it is 3.5 hours away, so it is quite a long drive. Napier was struck by an earthquake in 1931. Afterwards, the city was completely rebuilt in Art Deco style. Arriving in Napier, the Art Deco Walk is a must do! In the evening you watch the sunset from Bluff Hill Domain, a vantage point with a view of the whole city. The next day it’s time for wine! You are in Hawke’s Bay, one of the most famous wine regions in New Zealand. You visit different vineyards, and take the time for a delicious wine lunch. Don’t forget to buy some bottles for the coming days!

Lake Taupo and Tongariro (2 days)

The next morning you drive towards Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand. Lake Taupo is a volcanic crater, flooded into a lake. Besides swimming and relaxing you can also do all kinds of adrenaline sports such as skydiving, paragliding and water skiing here. The Acacia Bay, near the city of Taupo, seems to be the most beautiful beach.

You go to bed early because the next morning you get up around 05.00, so you can start at 07.00 walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. About 6 hours later you drive back tired to Taupo where you spend the rest of the day at the lake.

Rotorua (1 day)

The next day you drive in an hour to Rotorua, a city known for the hot springs, geysers and mud baths. Stop on the way for a hike at the Huka Falls or the Wairakei Terraces. In Rotorua, you can enjoy the sulfur air caused by the volcanic activity in this region. The most famous place to see hot springs, geysers and mud baths is Te Puia.

Coromandel Peninsula (2 days)

Are you a huge Lord of the Rings fan? Then Hobbiton cannot be missed out on in this route. And by coincidence, you will almost drive by when driving to the Coromandel Peninsula. No fan, no worries, then you have more time on the beach. Drive further than we did, all the way towards Cooks Beach or Hahei. Besides beautiful blue water and white sand, you will also find two nice sights: the beautiful Cathedral Cove, and Hot Water beach, where you can dig your own hot pool. Take it easy, you stay here for two nights. So time enough to go kayaking, go snorkeling or take a surf lesson.

Bay of Islands (2 days)

Enough relaxed, today you have a 4 hour drive ahead, all the way to Whangarei in the north of the North Island. You will go here to see the Whangarei Falls, the most famous waterfalls in New Zealand. You have the option to stay overnight in Whangarei, or to drive at the end of the day another hour towards Paihia a city in the middle of the beautiful Bay of Islands. There are 150 islands located over here, surrounded by turquoise water and white sand beaches. In the summer they look like tropical islands. The best way to see this area is by boat, where you can also see the beautiful marine life: dolphins, whales and penguins. When the boat docks on one of the many islands, you can do a hike and enjoy the quiet nature.

Omapere (1 day)

Before you drive up to Auckland, you have one last stop, Omapere. This small village is located near the Waipoua Kauri Forest, where the largest trees in the world grow. The tallest tree is the Tane Mahuta, which is 52 meters high and 13 meters wide. These trees are not only huge, but also very old, the oldest is more than 4000 years old.

You will end your time on the North Island with two days of Auckland where you will definitly go to Waiheke Island for a day.


Itinerary 3: Two weeks on the North Island

Wellington – Napier – Hawke’s Bay – Tongariro National Parc – Waitomo Caves – Raglan – Bay of Islands – Ompare – Auckland

New Zealand North island Itinerary 2 weeks 2

Click on the image or here to see this itinerary. Part of this route is the same as that of itinerary 2. Below I’ll describe only the pieces that deviate. You can follow this itinerary if you want to see the largest cave systems in New Zealand, and if you want to go surfing. With this, you will miss out on Rotorua and the Coromandel Peninsula.

Waitomo Caves (2 days)

The first part of the route is the same as itinerary 1. But from Hawke’s Bay, you will go directly to the Tongariro National Parc. You will sleep here at the Whakapapa Holiday Park, in the middle of the Tongariro National Parc. Here you start walking early in the morning the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, after which you will drive in the afternoon towards the Waitomo Caves. The next two days you will enjoy the gigantic cave systems by boat. The Glowworm Cave is one of the most famous and touristic caves, and that is not surprising with a ceiling of millions of luminous worms. Just a huge starry sky. Besides visiting caves, there are also other cool activities to do here. You can go Black Water Rafting: gliding through the caves on a large inflation band. Or you go for an afternoon of canyoning.

Raglan (2 days)

Your next destination also contains a lot of water; two days of surfing in Raglan. This village is one of the most famous surf spots in the world with the accompanying chilly vibe. The nicest beaches are Ocean Beach and Ngarunui Beach.

For the rest of the journey, continue itinerary 2 to the Whangarei Falls and Bay of Islands.

Useful tips for the North Island:

  • Book the crossing between the North- en South Island on time. Full is full, and especially in the high season, the boat is sometimes already a few weeks in advance full. We booked half a year in advance with Bluebridge. On the ferry, there is wifi and a restaurant (which is very pricey).
  • The campsites on the North Island are often slightly more expensive than those on the South Island. They are also full faster, so booking a day ahead is smart.
  • Are you a real LOTR fan? Then there is no better place then New Zealand! You can visit many film locations which are located in a beautiful nature. It might be smart to to some research in advance, for instance with the use of the following books: Middle-Earth LandscapesThe Hobbit Motion Picture Trilogy Location Guide or Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook.
  • We almost always slept in our campervan, only in Auckland we stayed in Haka Lodge, a hostel. If you don’t travel by campervan, we can highly recommend the Haka Lodge hostels. They are in different convenient locations in New Zealand, they are clean and the rooms are spacious.
  • During the planning of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, we had quite some questions. Because you might also have these, here are all our tips:
    • You can’t do this hike every day. If there’s too much wind or if it’s too foggy then it is not allowed to go up the mountain. Keep this in mind while planning.
    • Put on good shoes and bring enough warm clothes. It is a challenging hike through volcanic sand and at the top, it can be very cold.
    • This hike is very popular. If you don’t want to walk this hike with too many people, leave early (5 o’clock). We started at 07.00 and it was already pretty busy.
    • Start at the actual start Mangatepopo, and not at the end Ketetahi. Really don’t, because it is much harder to walk from the other side. And keep in mind, at Ketehahi you can park your car, but you can’t at Mangatepopo.
    • Find out how to get to the starting point. It is not allowed to park your car at the starting point for more than 4 hours during high season. Neither is it practical. The hike is not a circle, so the starting point is different from the end point. Some options:

– What you can do is just walk part of the hike, and then turn around. Really a shame, because in 2 hours you won’t see the most beautiful part.
– Or you park your car at the end point, which is allowed, and you then book a shuttle to the starting point.
– We booked a return shuttle bus with James Tihi from Active Outdoors Adventures, absolutely recommended. Book directly with him, and not through the campsite, that saves a lot of money!


After reading this, are you curious about the itinerary for the South Island?

Itinerary: The South island of New Zealand

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Last January and February we explored New Zealand through a road trip with a campervan. We started off in Christchurch and drove a few thousand kilometres in three and a half weeks visiting both the North and the South Island. Meanwhile, we made cool hikes, saw whales and dolphins and enjoyed camping out in the wilderness. In this blog, I share our itinerary[...]

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