CK Travels

New Zealand north island itinerary – Auckland to Wellington

New Zealand’s north island has so much to offer for your itinerary with excellent cities, amazing beaches, volcanic activity, vineyards, Maori Culture and national parks. If you are short on time and only have a week to explore then we have created a perfect itinerary that covers many of the north island’s highlights. The road trip starts and ends in the two biggest cities – Auckland and Wellington, both of which have airports.

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Here is our suggested 7 day/ 1-week New Zealand north island itinerary road trip:

New Zealand north island itinerary map

Auckland to Wellington - a 7 day / 1 week North Island road trip

Notes about this Auckland to Wellington itinerary

The following itinerary is suitable for all year round visits except for the 2 night stay in National Park to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This hike can be done any time of year but it is safest to do it between the months of October – April as snow can make the walk very difficult.

If you want to skip the Tongariro hike part of the itinerary then you could add in a stay in Taupo instead, or add on extra nights in Auckland or Wellington. If you are visiting during the winter months (early June – late October) you could stay for the suggested 2 nights in Tongariro National Park and go skiing in Whakapapa instead!

Auckland to Wellington - a 7 day / 1 week North Island road trip
Tongariro National Park

FURTHER READING: New Zealand travel tips for first-time visitors >


Car hire for New Zealand north island itinerary

Public transport is pretty poor between cities in New Zealand, and many attractions are usually a drive out of town, so for that reason we would recommend hiring a car or campervan.

You can pick up your hire car / campervan as soon as you arrive at Auckland airport, or a day or two later from downtown Auckland. We personally recommend JUCY rentals or Apex rentals for excellent service and decent rates. Or use rentalcars.com to compare different prices from all the rental car companies.

From our own personal experience we would not recommend Omega Rental Cars for car hire at all (dirty car, poor customer service and unauthorised payments coming out of our account 9 months after our trip) – avoid these guys!

Auckland to Wellington: New Zealand north Island itinerary:

Day 1: Auckland

Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest urban city with excellent bars and restaurants, and only a half an hour drive away from beautiful beaches and rainforest, and a ferry ride away from some stunning islands and wineries. Auckland has the north island’s biggest international airport and it is a great place to start your 1 week New Zealand north island itinerary.

Auckland to Wellington - a 7 day / 1 week North Island road trip

Day 1 will be your first full day in Auckland after arriving in the city the day before (so you will need to book 2 nights accommodation). There are so many things to do in Auckland that you could easily spend a week exploring here. We lived in Auckland for 18 months and know all the best spots – here are some suggestions on how you spend your day:

Things to do in Auckland:

Devonport
Take a 10 minute ferry from downtown Auckland to the pretty suburb of Devonport, and climb Mount Victoria (20 minute uphill walk) for epic views of the city and the Hauraki Gulf.

Auckland to Wellington - a 7 day / 1 week North Island road trip
Views from Mount Victoria

Sky Tower
The Auckland Sky Tower is the most iconic building in Auckland’s skyline and has amazing views of the city and Hauraki gulf. There is a viewing observation deck, two restaurants (one that revolves) and also some adrenaline fuelled activities such as the SkyWalk (a harnessed walk around the edge of the top of the tower) and SkyJump (jumping off the tower)! Book your ticket to the Sky Tower viewing deck or dinner at the revolving restaurant – Orbit 360°

Mount Eden
Mount Eden is an easy 2k walk and is the highest (dormant) volcano in Auckland. At the top is an amazing 360° view of Auckland and a huge crater (which is considered highly sacred so don’t enter it!)

Auckland to Wellington - a 7 day / 1 week North Island road trip
Mount Eden

Britomart
A vibrant nine block precinct on Auckland’s waterfront with many cafes, restaurants, bars and designer shops. Mexico, Milse and Ortolana are a few of our favourite eateries there and are a great spot for lunch.

Rangitoto Island
This volcanic island is a short 25 minute ferry ride away from downtown Auckland. The walk to the top takes 1 hour and the views are spectacular. You can visit the island independently by booking ferry tickets at the ferry terminal, or book onto a guided tour.

Waiheke Island
Waiheke is a beautiful island in the Hauraki Gulf with gorgeous beaches and wineries, and possibly our most favourite place to visit in Auckland. The island is 40 minutes away by ferry and to get the most out of your day we would recommend booking a Waiheke Island wine tour from Auckland.

For more information, read our guide to Waiheke Island blog post >

Auckland to Wellington - a 7 day / 1 week North Island road trip
Mudbrick Winery in Waiheke Island

Waitakere Ranges
If you have already picked up your hire car or campervan then drive over to the Waitakere Ranges in west Auckland to admire the beautiful rugged beaches, walk through rainforests and swim at the top of Kitekite Falls. If you do not have your own vehicle yet then you can book this day tour to Karekare Waterfalls and Piha Beach >

Auckland to Wellington - a 7 day / 1 week North Island road trip
Rainforest walk in the Waitakere Ranges

Viaduct Harbour
The harbour on Auckland’s waterfront is a great place to end your sightseeing day with many excellent bars and restaurants. Click here to check out where to eat and drink.

Auckland accommodation for 2 nights:

BUDGET – YHA Auckland City
Recently refurbished hostel with outdoor sundeck and BBQ, large kitchen and dining room, lounge, SKY TV and laundry. 

MID RANGE – Adina Apartment Hotel Auckland Britomart
Modern, spacious apartments located in the vibrant Britomart precinct. Studios have air conditioning, flat-screen TV with satellite channels and kitchen facilities. 

LUXURY – Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour
5 star hotel located in the viaduct with large indoor pool, fitness centre and rooms with private balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows. 


YOU MIGHT LIKE – Auckland itinerary – the perfect 1, 2 or 3 days in Auckland


Day 2: Auckland to Rotorua via Hobbiton Movie Set

Drive time:
Auckland > Matamata: 2 hours 20 mins
Matamata > Rotorua: 1 hour

Check out of your Auckland accommodation and then pick up your hire car / campervan if you haven’t already. It’s time for the Auckland to Wellington New Zealand north Island itinerary to begin and the first stop is Matamata, home of the Hobbiton Movie Set. This is one of New Zealand’s most popular attractions and a must visit for Lord of the Rings fans!

The price for the tour is 89NZD and includes an official 2 hour guided walk around Hobbiton and a complimentary drink at The Green Dragon Inn. You’ll also have many opportunities to take some great photos inside the hobbit holes! Advance booking is recommended as this tour is really popular. Book your guided tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set online with GetYourGuide

Alternative itinerary – Waitomo Glowworm Caves

If you are not particularly keen on visiting Hobbiton, then you could drive to Rotorua via Waitomo instead. Waitomo is a small village known for its extensive underground cave systems and magical glowworms! To see these glowworms you can either enjoy a relaxing boat trip through the caves, or go on a 3-hour black water rafting tubing exploration through the underground rivers.

The drive time to Waitomo from Auckland is 2 hours 30 minutes, and then from Waitomo to Rotorua is 1 hour 50 minutes. Book a 45 minute boat tour or Black Water Rafting on Klook.

If you leave Auckland very early then you should be able to fit in both Waitomo and Hobbiton before driving to Rotorua! If you do decide to do this and think you’ll be tired after a busy day then you might want to spend one night in a hotel in Waitomo and stay in Rotorua for 1 night instead of 2. Check out the accommodation options in Waitomo on booking.com.

Copyright: Discover Waitomo

If you stick to the suggested itinerary then you’ll probably arrive in Rotorua late afternoon/early evening – check in to your accommodation and then enjoy dinner and drinks in town. Head over to the lake end of Tutanekai Street – also known as Eat Street. It has a covered central walkway and geothermal underfloor heating making it ideal for all year round al fresco dining!

If you are on a budget and are staying in self catering accommodation then Rotorua has many large supermarkets – we recommend Pak’nSave for cheap groceries.

Stay for 2 nights in Rotorua:

BUDGET – Funky Green Voyager 
Eco friendly hostel with both private rooms and dorms, large garden, lounge with log fire and free WIFI. 

MID RANGE – Arista of Rotorua
Located a 20 minute walk from the famous Polynesian Spa with BBQ area and most apartments feature a private hot tub and a private patio. 

LUXURY – Ramada Resort By Wyndham Rotorua Marama
Located just 20 minutes outside Rotorua city centre, this resort is situated on the edge of Lake Rotorua with outdoor swimming pool, heated hot tub, fitness centre and a tennis court. 

CAMPERVAN SITE – Rotorua TOP 10 Holiday Park
Multi award winning holiday park, located just 1km from the city centre with landscaped grounds, mineral pool complex, heated swimming pool, outdoor BBQ areas and kitchens. Also a great option if you are looking for accommodation in Rotorua with family.


Day 3: Rotorua

Today you will have a whole day to explore Rotorua and there are many fun things to do in this small geothermal lakeside town. Rotorua is best known for its rich Maori culture and geothermal activity – explore mud pools, thermal streams, geysers and learn about the history of the indigenous Maori people.

Lake Rotorua

Things to do in Rotorua

Polynesian Spa
Beautiful award winning spa with several geothermal mineral pools, unique spa therapies and awesome views of Lake Rotorua. Book a package deal online in advance with Klook

Outdoor hot pool in Polynesian Spa

Hells Gate Mud Bath and Spa
Hells Gate is New Zealand’s largest active mud volcano where you can relax in mud baths, enjoy a sulphurous spa and take a refreshing dip in the spring fed waterfall. Book a Hells Gate Mud Bath and Spa package online with Klook

Skyline Rotorua Gondola and Luge
Take a 10-minute gondola ride up to the summit of Mount Ngongotaha for awesome views of the city and Lake Rotorua. There are loads of activities at the top including luge riding, mountain biking, zip lining or dining at the Stratosfare Restaurant and Bar. Book your Skyline Rotorua Gondola and Luge Tickets in advance.

Te Puia
Here you can learn all about Maori culture and marvel at the geothermal wonders spread over 60 hectares of land, including the famous Pohutu Geyser! Book a Te Puia Day Pass online with Klook

Auckland to Wellington - a 7 day North Island road trip itinerary
Maori performance at Te Puia
Auckland to Wellington - a 7 day North Island road trip itinerary
Pohutu Geyser at Te Puia

Tamaki Maori Village Evening Cultural Experience
Immerse yourself in the traditional Maori way of life with an evening cultural performance, village tour and traditional hangi dinner. Book a Tamaki Maori Village Evening Cultural Experience

Check out our things to do in Rotorua blog post >


Day 4: Rotorua to National Park via Wai-O-Tapu / Waimangu Volcanic Valley and Taupo

Drive time:
Rotorua > Wai-O-Tapu / Waimangu: 25 minutes
Wai-O-Tapu / Waimangu > Taupo: 40 minutes

Taupo > National Park: 1 hour 20 minutes

Check out of your Rotorua accommodation and continue your Auckland to Wellington north island road trip! On the drive from Rotorua to Taupo you will pass two large geothermal parks, Wai-O-Tapu and Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Both have colourful geothermal attractions and interesting landscapes sculpted by thousands of years of volcanic activity. If these do not interest you, then drive past and carry on to Taupo!

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
The most famous geothermal park with colourful and unique attractions, including the the iconic Lady Knox Geyser and the largest mud pool in the country. Book a Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland ticket online

Waimangu Volcanic Valley
The youngest volcanic valley in the world with scenic walks, craters and hot springs to explore. Book a Waimangu Volcanic Valley Tour

Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Taupo

Taupo is a small town located on the shores of the huge Lake Taupo (the lake’s surface area is bigger than Singapore!) There are plenty of activities to keep you occupied for the day. Here are some suggestions:

Picnic by Lake Taupo
Pick up a take away from a local restaurant or buy some supplies from a supermarket for a nice lakeside picnic lunch!

Lake Taupo Maori Rock Carvings cruise
View the renowned Maori Rock Carvings on a relaxed hour and a half scenic cruise. Book a Maori Rock Carvings cruise online with GetYourGuide

Skydive
Tick off a bucket list dream and jump out of a plane with amazing views of Lake Taupo and the mountains in Tongariro National Park. Book a Skydive online with Klook

Huka Falls
View these powerful falls from multiple observation decks – more than 220,000 litres of water per second plunge over the 11 meter high waterfall into the Waikato River below.

Huka Falls Jet boat ride
Rather than just watching the falls, you can take an exhilarating 30 minute jet ride on the Waikato River whilst getting up close to the falls! Book a Huka Falls Jet Ride

Auckland to Wellington - a 7 day North Island road trip itinerary
Huka Falls

Eat at Taupo Mcdonald’s!
I know you didn’t come all the way to New Zealand to eat at Mcdonald’s but look – you can eat inside a plane!

Mcdonald’s in Taupo

After exploring Taupo, continue your drive to National Park. You will probably arrive in National Park around late afternoon/early evening so check into your hotel, have dinner and get a good nights sleep ahead of tomorrow’s big walk!

If you are planning to cook rather than dine out then we would recommend purchasing your groceries from the large supermarkets in Taupo before heading to National Park as there is only a small Four Square grocery store in the village.

Stay for 2 nights in Tongariro:

We would recommend booking cancellable accommodation in National Park just incase the weather is so bad you cannot do the hike. Alternatively you might decide to base yourself in Taupo for two nights instead as many hotels there offer shuttle bus services to Tongariro National Park.

BUDGET – YHA National Park Backpackers
Backpackers with dorms and private rooms built around an indoor climbing hall with communal kitchen and dining area, TV lounge and summer BBQ. 

MID RANGE – The Park Hotel Ruapehu
Located in the Tongariro National Park, affordable rooms in a stunning alpine setting with hot tubs and on-site bars and restaurants. 

LUXURY – Chateau Tongariro Hotel
Historical hotel with grand architecture located in the Tongariro National Park with spectacular views, and a games room, sauna, indoor plunge pool, fitness centre and in-house cinema. 

CAMPERVAN SITE – Tongariro Family Hoilday Park
Spacious grounds with 25 powered sites for tents, caravans and campervans, hot tubs, communal kitchen, hot showers, games rooms and sports equipment. 


FURTHER READINGUltimate New Zealand bucket list – top 50 things to do


Day 5: Tongairo Alpine Crossing hike

Today is the day of your exciting big walk. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of New Zealand’s best day hikes. A good level of fitness is required as there is quite a bit of uphill walking at the start and the route is 19.4 km long. It usually takes around 6-8 hours to complete – we managed to finish it in 6.5 hours and we aren’t the most fittest people to be honest!

Auckland to Wellington - a 7 day North Island road trip itinerary

The start and end points of the walk are in completely different places so you will need to book transport to drop you off and pick you up. Many hotels and hostels can arrange this for a charge of around 30NZD – it might be best to contact them ahead of your stay to guarantee a space on the shuttle bus.

Make sure to pack layers of warm waterproof and windproof clothing, a packed lunch, sunglasses, hat, plenty of water, spare batteries for your camera and some strong walking boots.

Auckland to Wellington - a 7 day North Island road trip itinerary
Auckland to Wellington - a 7 day North Island road trip itinerary

Afterwards you will be very tired and achey so relax and rest! We stayed at The Park hotel and enjoyed an evening soak in their hot tub and a drink at their on-site bar. They also had a shared kitchen so we just made a simple pasta dinner and had an early night!

The Park Hotel Ruapehu

Day 6: National Park to Wellington

Driving time:
Tongariro National Park > Wellington: 4 hours

Today is the longest drive of the Auckland to Wellington itinerary. Take a break halfway through your 4 hour drive in the town of Bulls where there are cafes to eat lunch and a handful of gift shops. The town is also bull themed with signage with Bull themed puns.

Small town of Bulls

After you have checked into your Wellington accommodation, take a stroll along the waterfront where there are many places to eat and drink. Wellington has a great dining and craft beer scene – check out Dockside Restaurant & Bar for fresh seafood, and Mac’s Restaurant and Brewbar for views of the harbour.

Stay overnight in Wellington:

BUDGET – The Dwellington
Highly rated hostel with chef’s style kitchen, a state-of-the-art cinema room with Netflix, a games room and outdoor spaces. 

MID RANGE – QT Wellington
Modern hotel with fitness centre, indoor heated swimming pool and restaurant with views of Wellington’s harbour. 

LUXURY – Bolton Hotel Wellington
Elegant 5-star boutique hotel with fitness centre, spa pool, and and in-room iPad minis. 

CAMPERVAN SITE – Wellington Top 10 Holiday Park
Holiday Park located in Lower Hutt – 15km from central Wellington. Spacious grounds with BBQ area, communal kitchens, private spa and Sky TV room.


Day 7: Wellington

Today is the final day of the Auckland to Wellington New Zealand north Island itinerary and is a full day in Wellington. This city was was named “the coolest little capital in the world” by Lonely Planet – here are a few sightseeing and attraction suugestions:

Things to do in Wellington:

Wellington Cable Car
New Zealand’s only running funicular railway runs between Lambton Quay (the main shopping street), and Kelburn – a suburb in the hills overlooking the city and harbour. At the top you’ll find attractions such as the botanic garden, Cable Car Museum and Zealandia wildlife sanctuary. Book a Zealandia by Day Tour.

Auckland to Wellington - a 7 day North Island road trip itinerary

Winery tour
Visit three wineries on a 5 hour tour in the picturesque town of Martinborough, where some of New Zealand’s best pinot noir comes from. Book a Martinborough Winery Tour

Martinborough, Wairarapa / Scott Venning

Cuba Street
Wellington’s most famous and bohemian street with an eclectic mix of cafés, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, art galleries and trendy independent shops.

Te Papa museum
New Zealand’s national museum with permanent and temporary exhibitions – a great thing to do if your day in Wellington is rainy!

Auckland to Wellington - a 7 day North Island road trip itinerary

Brewery tour
Wellington has a vibrant craft beer scene and on this tour you get to visit 3 of the best breweries and enjoy at least 4 beers in each. Book an all-inclusive half-day brewery tour

Weta Workshop
Weta Workshop is a special effects and prop company based in the suburb of Miramar, known for their work on the Lord of the Rings films. They offer a variety of behind the scene tours – check out their website for more details or book onto a half-day movie tour.


Where to next?

The evening marks the end of your 1 week Auckland to Wellington New Zealand north Island itinerary. If you have more time you could stay in Wellington for an extra night or two then take your hire car over to the south island on the Interislander ferry and start a new road trip from Picton. Check out our Wellington to Christchurch 1 week itinerary >

Or take an internal flight to Christchurch and start this Christchurch to Queenstown 7 day south island itinerary or Christchurch to Nelson drive itinerary.



More New Zealand itineraries:

South island New Zealand blog posts:


Watch our New Zealand South Island video


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