The Ultimate New Zealand North Island Itinerary

From phenomenal dining by Auckland’s sparkling harbour to lakeside Maori rock carvings and a stroll through Middle Earth. One of the best things about a North Island road trip is the amazing amount of highlights you will cover in an easy distance.

Our week-long North Island itinerary takes you from Auckland’s harbourside beauty to lively Wellington, with a host of must-see wonders along the way. And if you choose to, there are also plenty of ways to divert yourself for longer.

Tāmaki Makaurau – Auckland

Auckland CBD
Auckland CBD

Recommended stay: 1 – 3 days

Known as the ‘City of Sails’ due to its location by the glittering Hauraki Gulf, Auckland is the perfect starting point for a road trip through New Zealand’s beautiful North Island. Auckland is also easy to get to, with Auckland Airport and car hire services only 20km from the centre of town.

For a birds-eye view of the surrounding waterways and ancient volcanoes, start your adventure 186 metres above the city at the iconic Sky Tower. This landmark is also home to New Zealand’s only revolving restaurant, Orbit 360, as well as the award-winning Sugar Club and Sky Café.

Closer to sea level, sip a cocktail or cool off with an award-winning craft beer overlooking the stunning Waitemata Harbour at Princes Wharf. At Matakana Village Farmers’ Market you’ll find handcrafted chocolate, award-winning coffee and live music every Saturday. The Auckland Night Markets are also held throughout the week at various locations. 

Wrap yourself in the region’s incredible history at the Auckland Museum. Home to an incredible collection of local and natural history, from international antiquities to dinosaur relics. The Tāmaki Herenga Waka Stories of Auckland exhibition will take you back in time on a journey through Maori heritage behind this historic city.
Enjoy a day trip while you are here. Rangitoto Island is the largest of Auckland’s 48 surrounding volcanoes, and home to the world’s largest pohutukawa forest. Explore the trails and enjoy spectacular stunning views of the Hauraki Gulf. The 100-year-old Auckland Zoo is also a great place to visit for a range of memorable wildlife experiences.

Where to stay in Auckland

Enjoy a comfortable stay close to town and the West Coast beaches at Quality Hotel Lincoln Green – you can also dine here at the resident Good Home Gastro Pub. Econo Lodge City Central is another great option located in the heart of Auckland and surrounded by restaurants, café’s, bars and shopping centres.

Taupō

Hobbiton, located en route to Taupo from Taupō from Auckland
Hobbiton, located en route to Taupō from Auckland

Recommended stay: 1 – 2 days
Distance from Auckland: 273km / 3 hrs

The drive from Auckland to Taupō is rich with picturesque farmland. Break up your trip with a Hobbiton Movie Set Tour in Matamata, where you can explore the iconic hobbit-dwellings from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Book ahead and enjoy a meal at Hobbiton’s Green Inn. Tours depart at least 5 times daily.

Created almost 2,000 years ago by a tremendous volcanic eruption, the spectacular Taupō region is reminiscent of its dramatic origins. Catch a living glimpse of its ancient wonder at Craters of the Moon, a geothermal valley hissing with steam and wreathed in clouds – explore this atmospheric wonder on the wooden boardwalk.

Known as New Zealand’s ‘great inland sea’, Lake Taupō is a haven for native wildlife and an idyllic place for kayaking and sailing. Only visible from the water, not far from Taupō’s township on the scenic western side of the lake, you’ll find the towering 10-metre high carving of Ngatoroirangi, the legendary Māori navigator. Hire a boat or kayak and get up close. 

Five minutes from town, Huka Falls is an awe-inspiring force of nature. Watch the thundering Waikato River rushing into the pool 11m below from a viewing footbridge above. You can also witness the Falls below from a river cruise, or explore the nearby walking trails on foot and enjoy a picnic. 

Related: An unexpected underwater playground off NZ’s north-east coast

Where to stay in Taupō

Stay in an area of breathtaking beauty at Quality Suites Huka Falls, located amongst grapevines and only five minutes from the centre of Taupō.

Ahuriri – Napier

Sun rising over Cape Kidnappers near Napier, NZ
Sun rising over Cape Kidnappers near Napier, NZ

Recommended stay: 1 – 2 days
Distance from Taupō: 141km / 1 hr 50 min

The drive from Taupō to Napier unrolls spectacular scenery, from rugged hills to beautiful panoramas. This two-hour trip brings you to Napier, New Zealand’s Art Deco capital. Situated in the wine-making region of Hawke’s Bay, and surrounded by palm trees and Norfolk pines, this region is also renowned for some of the most complete Art Deco architecture in the world.

After being devastated by a huge earthquake in 1931 Napier was rebuilt in the style of the times. Today, the prominent Spanish Mission and Art Deco architecture capture a moment in time. Explore the film-set charm of this historic town on one of the many walks and tours – you can even enjoy a vintage car tour.

Nurtured by a temperate climate, Napier’s surrounding wine region is rich with cellar doors. This diverse region, first planted by Marist missionaries in 1851, is known for its aromatic whites and red blends – sample some of the innovative flavours at Church Road Winery. For 125 years this winery has been at the forefront of local winemaking and is known for its Bordeaux-style red wine.

Explore the region further on one of the Hawke’s Bay Cycle Trails, one of New Zealand Cycle Trails 23 Great Rides. The trails are made up of three experiences, including The Water Ride that winds beside waterways, The Wineries Ride and The Landscapes Ride. For sweeping views of the ocean moments from the centre of town, visit the Bluff Hill Lookout, situated near the site of an old artillery battery. 

Where to stay in Napier

In the heart of town Quality Inn Napier offers the perfect location for exploring the town’s charms. Only 50 metres from Westshore Beach, Comfort Inn Westshore Beach is a great location next to the Ahuriri Estuary Wildlife Reserve.

Palmerston North

Palmerston North, New Zealand
Palmerston North, New Zealand

Recommended stay: 1 – 2 days
Distance from Napier: 179km / 2 hr 25 min

Heading southwest from Napier, the drive to ‘Palmy’ takes you through the Manawatu Gorge before delivering you to the banks of the Manawatū River, between the dramatic Tararua and Ruahine mountain ranges. Known for its spectacular surrounding wilderness, Palmerston North is also a sophisticated cultural hub.

The Te Manawa Museum is a fascinating gateway into fascinating local European and Māori history, alongside of art and science exhibits. There are around 55,000 items in Te Manawa’s collection, including artwork by significant New Zealand artists, particularly Māori and Polynesian artists whose works relate to the Manawatū region.

Next door to Te Manawa, you’ll find the New Zealand Rugby Museum and its huge range of memorabilia. This impressive collection covers the history and myths of New Zealand’s national game. Check out a 1905 ‘Originals’ jersey and try out your rugby skills in the ‘Have a Go’ area.

Enjoy the flavours of the region at one of the local farmers’ markets, such as the weekly Albert Street Farmers’ Market where you’ll find cheese, preserves and locally-grown produce. 

Where to stay in Palmerston North

For a comfortable stay in the city centre, Quality Suites Central Square is close to many popular highlights. Close to the beautiful Manawatu River, Comfort Inn Kauri Court is another great option.

Wellington

Castle Point Lighthouse in Wellington, New Zealand
Castle Point Lighthouse in Wellington, New Zealand

Recommended stay: 1 – 3 days
Distance from Palmerston North: 143km / 1 hr 55 min

Welcome to New Zealand’s ‘Creative Capital’.  This harbourside city is a year-round destination thriving with acclaimed restaurants, vibrant art and movie exhibits and awe-inspiring nature – and the perfect place to wrap up your New Zealand North Island itinerary.

If you didn’t get a chance to visit Hobbiton on your travels, don’t worry –  ‘Wellywood’ is a film buff’s dream destination. Take the Wētā Workshop Tour to see artefacts and learn about the creative magic behind the movies that include the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar, King Kong and The Avengers

Be transported in time at the Wellington Museum. Housed in the 19th-century Bond Store on Wellington’s waterfront, this museum has been voted one of the world’s top 50. Trace Wellington’s story, from the journey of the Polynesian navigator Kupe through to fantastical steampunk exhibits in the museum’s ‘Attic’ section. 

For a panoramic view of Wellington, don’t miss the iconic Wellington Cable Car. This signature ride takes you from the heart of the city to a birds-eye lookout at the Cable Car Summit. The cable car also gives you access to the Cable Car Museum, Wellington Botanic Gardens and a free shuttle to Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne wildlife sanctuary. 

Surrounded by stunning waterways, no trip to Wellington would be complete without a walk along the waterfront. Visit the Makara Track, a half-hour’s drive from town, for vantage points over Cook Strait. The 14km City to Sea Walk starts in central Wellington and in Island Bay. 

Worked up an appetite? Wellington is celebrated for its food and wine. From the renowned Wairarapa wine region, only an hour’s drive from town, to the relaxed food hub of Hannah’s Laneway, the delicious craft beer of local breweries such as Beervana and events such as the Wine and Food Festival in December, you’ll find plenty of memorable ways treat the tastebuds.

Where to stay in Wellington

 Located in Lower Hutt CBD, Quality Hotel The Angus is surrounded by some of Wellington’s finest sights and attractions. Enjoy a meal at the hotel’s popular Angus Conservatory restaurant.

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