North Island itinerary in New Zealand
New Zealand, this island at the end of the world, is the land known for its grandiose landscapes (fjords, glaciers, geyser, national parks), its rich fauna and flora (the endemic kiwi), and finally by the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies. But it is also known for backpackers who come to work in these South Pacific islands (like Australia) on a WHV (working holiday visa). Many people who travel around the world decide to travel through this part of Oceania, often between Chile, French Polynesia, Easter Island, New Caledonia or the Fiji Islands. During our stay in New Zealand, we were able to do a 3-week roadtrip on the North Island. If you are planning a trip to the country, the article on the budget for a trip to New Zealand may help… I’ll now talk about our itinerary in New Zealand, on the North Island.
I will then go on to a more detailed description of the different places we have been to. Here is a general overview of our itinerary on the North Island of New Zealand over the past three weeks.
To explain a little about the process we were in, we did not want to rush during our 3-week trip and consider visiting the 2 islands. Looking back now, we are happy with our choice as we weren’t even able to visit the whole of the North Island during our trip. For information, I booked my 3-week car rental at a very good price on this site. For van and RV fans, it’s more this way.
So, here is our itinerary in New Zealand, on the North Island. I mention, for information, the number of Km and the hours indicated by Google Maps. Note that travel times are actually longer than you think (always interesting to prepare your trip, isn’t it?).
Some information before you go:
- During our trip, we had voluntarily ruled out from renting a motorhome (for economic reasons and besides, we love camping),
- We brought our camping equipment and decided to camp every night in a tent. We did however sleep a few nights in a type of motel (it was cold!) and also in youth hostels (Auckland),
- Even if the country is well known for it, on our New Zealand itinerary, we did not practice any extreme sports (bungee jumping, rafting, kayaking, etc.),
- With our little one, we are now 3 to travel, so we were on a family trip!
Auckland to the Waipoua Forest (3h - 230 Km)
From the start of our trip in New Zealand, we decided to head north to discover the Northland and the North Point. Departing from Auckland, you have two possibilities to get to the Waipoua Forest, a famous forest known for its Kaori, its millennia-old local trees, impressive in their size!
In my opinion, the most interesting route is to drive on route 16 from Auckland, in the direction of Parakai, to avoid driving on route N°1, a kind of New Zealand highway. Then continue on route 12 which passes through Dargaville.
A visit to the well-known Waipoua forest allows you to observe the impressive Kaori forest, each larger than the other. Several trails and routes are possible in the park. In the evening, if you want to sleep nearby, after visiting the forest, you can stay at Camping Trounson Kauri Park, about a 30-minute drive from Dargaville, just south of the park.
From Waipoua Forest to Cape Reinga (4h - 245 Km)
The whole road around the Waipoua forest is truly wonderful from every point of view: narrow and breathtaking view on a luxuriant vegetation (kaori and giant fern). Route 12 requires you to drive inland to the town of Kaikohe and then turn onto Route 1 to the last major town in Northland, Kaitaia.
We had already been warned, so I’m giving you the tip again. Fill up in this city, whether it’s gas in your tank, food, water etc. Only a mini-market quite expensive with the bare minimum can be found further north.
The road leading to The Cape is truly splendid and just for its sea views, it is worth coming here. We finally arrive at Cape Reinga where we discovered an incredible breathtaking panorama. For the evening, we slept at the beautiful Tapotupotu campsite, a few kilometers before arriving at the point.
Day at Cape Reinga and Te Paki Sand Dune
I recommend spending a day or two around the Cape Reinga area. You can reach it by a small walk to the point with its famous lighthouse. Many hikes also start in the area and lead to other bays and more isolated beaches.
You can also take a half-day trip to Te Paki Sand Dune, located about 20 km south along Route 1. Take advantage of these huge sand dunes to walk around and enjoy the view.
From Cape Reinga to Russell (Bay of Islands) (4h - 260 Km)
To go back down to the Bay of Islands, you have no other choice than to continue on route 1 and then turn off onto N°10. It’s a big car day as far as us and the baby are concerned.
We had chosen to stay in the small village of Russell rather than in the tourist town of Paihia, which doesn’t have much charm when you pass through it. On the other hand, this means having to go around a large bay, but the road, which is very little paved, is beautiful in the area.
A little tip that we didn’t see at the beginning, you can take a ferry with your car from Opua to Okiato, which limits the number of kilometers.
Bay of Islands and Village of Russell
I recommend spending two days in the area to enjoy the few hikes around the Bay of Islands, visit some wineries (the area is known for that) and visit the village of Russell. You also have the possibility to take a boat trip for the day. This is clearly one of the places we enjoyed throughout our New Zealand itinerary.
Russell -> Whangarei -> Kaiwaka (3h - 185 Km)
From the Bay of Islands, we had chosen to go down south as far as possible, towards the Coromandel Peninsula. With the little one, the journey was obviously impossible for us to make all at once.
Especially as it is still interesting to make a stop at Whangarei town for a trip to the waterfall outside the town and to visit the Abbey Caves, famous for being the place of refuge for glow-worm families.
Kaiwaka - Whangapoua (Coromandel Peninsula) (4h - 280 Km)
For us, it’s a big day that is not of major interest. In addition, you have to cross Auckland and its suburbs, which slows down travel times considerably. The route becomes very interesting from the moment you pass the town of Thames at the entrance to the Coromandel Peninsula and go up towards the village of Coromandel. The day ends with the magnificent road linking Coromandel to the village of Whangapoua. Beautiful.
Visit of the northern tip of the Coromandel Peninsula
One day is necessary to walk on the entire North Point of the Coromandel Peninsula. We therefore turned back to the day before and went up the road towards Coromandel, to continue towards the village of Colville. We then drove along the beautiful coastline towards the Port Jackson Campground, at the northern tip of the Coromandel Peninsula.
You can then return by the east coast of the peninsula through the other bays. I will tell you more about this in the article dedicated to the Coromandel Peninsula. The roads are splendid all day long, but also very long and we don’t drive fast… beware of the gravel too!
Coromandel Peninsula: Hot Water Beach & Cathedral Cove
To continue on our itinerary in New Zealand (North Island), we stayed one more day on the Coromandel Peninsula to visit the two most touristic attractions in the area, Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove.
I don’t generally get too excited about going to big tourist spots, but we were there. Take advantage of this day to tour the two spots, which even if they are VERY TOURISTIC, are worth seeing. Again, I will tell you more about this in the article dedicated to the Coromandel Peninsula.
The Coromandel Peninsula in Matamata (2H40 - 175 Km)
Nothing exciting here for us. It was mainly a question of going further south of the island, next to the town of Matamata, to visit the famous site of Hobbiton, renowned for the filming of The Lord of the Rings movie.
We spent the late afternoon in this magical, fairytale place that is definitely worth (despite its price) being seen. This visit will therefore be the subject of a full article. After the visit, we continued the road to the village of Tokoroa, where we found a very nice campsite. We stayed their several days to visit the surroundings of the region, Rotorua, Taupo, and the Tongariro National Park.
Rotorua: Wai O Ta Pu, Kerosene Creek and Rainbow Mountain Reserve
We leave our campsite in the early morning to go to the famous geothermal site of Wai O Ta Pu. It is one of the best-known spots in the region (and this is obvious given the number of tourists). We spend the morning in this beautiful site.
We proceed to two other sites, less crowded, Kerosene Creek, a beautiful warm water river where we spend some time relaxing and a walk at the Rainbow Mountain Reserve, which offers beautiful lake views. Count one day to visit all three sites.
Rotorua: Visit of the Buried village and walk to Lake Tarawera
We decided to take our time and have a second day around Rotorua. We take the day to visit a site called “the buried village”. It is an ancient village completely destroyed and buried by the eruption of Mount Tarawera in June 1886. I find that the site is pretty nice to see.
A walk around Lake Tarawera (very pleasant lake with a superb color) is really nice to do too.
Visit of the Orakei Korako site and walk around the Tongariro
We continue our New Zealand itinerary by visiting another geothermal site, less known, located more or less halfway between the cities of Taupo and Rotorua.
The site, much less touristy than Wai O Ta Pu, has more charm to me. It is reached by a boat crossing and you can already see the smoke from the site in the distance. The visit will take 1 to 2 hours depending on your pace and your desire to enjoy things. This is a site I absolutely recommend. In the afternoon, we decide, with beautiful weather, to continue our route to the famous volcano Tongariro. We will spend the whole afternoon in the area, on beautiful mountain roads and a breathtaking view of the surrounding volcanoes. I’ll explain the day to you in detail with beautiful pictures.
The possibilities for walks and hikes in the area are endless and hikers will find their happiness here. The famous Tongariro trek is recommended for all enthusiasts.
Visit of the city of Taupo
You can plan a day to go around Lake Taupo, walk around the lake. We’ll also spend part of the day in the town, which is quite charming. There are a lot of activities to do around Taupo, even if we are not adepts. Clearly there are ways to have fun around this town.
Back to Piha
Our itinerary in New Zealand on the North Island is nearing its end, as we will not be going further south. We are certainly short of time, but in this trip, we wanted (as often) to take our time for things and try not to rush. So, we drive back to the city of Piha, northwest of Auckland, in a day’s drive, where we join a couple of friends from Tahiti.
We will spend three days in this city, rather nice, even if the weather was not always with us. To say, we even had hail one morning…
The impression is nice but remains mitigated by this capital, very developed, but lacking charm in my eyes.
There you go, I hope you enjoyed this article on our itinerary in New Zealand on the North Island. There are some things missing from this itinerary, such as a visit to the town of Wellington, a trip up the west coast of the island, and so on. We enjoyed our itinerary, and it seems possible to get off the beaten track.
For those looking for leads for an itinerary on the South Island, you’ll have to wait for my next trip to the country. You can already search for the great classics: Queenstown, Tasman, Franz Joseph’s glacier, the Canterbury area, and many others.
Other articles will follow, concerning specific sites and practical tips for traveling in New Zealand.
Are you preparing for a world tour? Are you coming by my place?
Ideas for itineraries in French Polynesia
This island, almost at the antipodes of Europe, remains in my opinion an essential passage in the southern hemisphere, during your visit to the Pacific Ocean.
I’ll see you soon,