It happens very often that travellers don’t have much time to see the best of New Zealand that’s why here is my suggestion of New Zealand North Island itinerary for 7 days. It is a bit of a rush but still enough time to experience New Zealand’s North Island highlights.
This New Zealand North Island travel guide is perfect for the New Zealand self drive tours or exploring the country by bus. In both ways it’s a very easy and exciting route. I will start from Auckland and finish in Wellington, nevertheless you can also follow the New Zealand 7 days itinerary backwards. It covers the best of north island New Zealand to make your road trip memorable.
Best Places to visit in North Island, New Zealand in 7 Days
Day 1: Auckland
Auckland is the most populated city in New Zealand. It’s for it’s Westhaven Marina, busy CBD occupied by tall skyscrapers and surroundings filled with magnificent landscapes. It’s a nice smooth introduction to the Kiwi culture before you start your New Zealand North Island trip through the land of Tolkien’s mystical creatures. You can visit Auckland Art Gallery or experience bungee jump off the Auckland Harbour Bridge or jump off the Auckland Sky Tower. I would suggest you to explore Auckland’s surroundings, they have a lot to offer. Check my Top 5 things to see in Auckland.
Auckland offers plenty of car rental companies to choose from. I would suggest Snap Rentals. It’s backpacker-friendly, accepts 18+ drivers with insurance costs being the same for drivers of any age. No extra charge for multiple drivers. Pick up locations in Auckland are Auckland City Centre (Hopetoun Street) and Auckland Airport. And Drop-off Locations: Auckland, Queenstown, Queenstown Airport and Christchurch Airport.
Day 2-3: Tauranga & Mount Maunganui
If you are enjoying a self drive tour in New Zealand then it will take you 2:30h to get to Tauranga from Auckland. Tauranga is one of the most populous cities in the Bay of Plenty region North Island of New Zealand. It’s surrounded by a beautiful coastline where you can go sailing, fishing or dolphin and orca watching. You can stroll through the harbour, enjoy the view and taste something delicious in one of the cafés.
But don’t stay too long in Tauranga. Just a 15 minutes drive away from Tauranga you will find the amazing beach town, Mount Maunganui. It has been named as the “Best beach in New Zealand”. There are plenty of beautiful walking tracks to the top of the extinct volcano Mauao, which rises 232 metres above the sea and offers amazing 360 degree view. There is also Gourmet Night Market with a wide range of fresh food from local farmers.
Day 4: The geothermal city of Rotorua
Rotorua is another geothermal treasure of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s located just one hour drive away from Tuaranga and offers various attractions. A special feature of this town due to the sulphur in the air is the incredibly strong smell of eggs that makes the journey unbearable and can be handled for only 2 days.
35% of Rotorua’s population is Maori and the reason for that goes back to the time when the tribes just arrived in New Zealand. Shortly after they discovered lake Rotorua and it’s geothermal surroundings. They immediately saw the benefits, providing hot water and fertile soil. They also gave a spiritual meaning to the region. Nowadays there are numerous villages that you can visit and experience a journey back in time.
Where to stay in Rotorua?
Just for 1 night I would suggest to stay at Base Hostel. The positive aspects were the close proximity to the city and the free parking space for the driving backpackers. Wi-fi was available at the reception but only until 9pm, otherwise you need to pay $6 for 24h.
Things to do and attractions in Rotorua
Geothermal reserve walk in Hell’s Gate
The best way to start your day getting to know the sulphur-rich area is with visiting one of the 5 geothermal parks. We decided to experience the unique Maori owned active geothermal area with mud bath spa, Hell’s Gate. It’s a mesmerising field with erupting waters, pools of boiling mud and a volcano with the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere. Every hot pool has a different temperature, for example the steaming cliffs pool is the hottest one and reaches 122C.
There is a separate charming area where you can relax and enjoy the landscaped view. I need to warn you though, your skin will have an egg odor for a few days. Addendum, you will need around 2h to visit this unique place.
Wine tasting at Volcanic Hill and skyline
New Zealand is famous for it’s rich variety of great wine. Every region produces it’s own liquid pride, as does Rotorua. Nevertheless there are only two amazing winemakers, who are creating divine wine together, Sean Beer and Brent Park. They gathered experience from all over the world and decided to produce high quality wine, poetically named Volcanic Hills. Their winery is small and they sell directly to costumers which makes their wine even more exclusive.
To explore the savoriness of Volcanic Hills’ wine you can have a ride on the breathtaking Skyline and visit the tasting room. The memorable ride on the Gondola will leave you in excited anticipation to see the top of the Skyline. The tasting room will spoil you with samples of wines from New Zealand’s best wine regions. While you are being a professional and decadent wine taster you can also enjoy the 180° panoramic views over Lake Rotorua. There are 5 different varieties of wine to try and each one has it’s own explosive flavours.
Night tour in Rotorua
This is one of the must tours in Rotorua! It’s something completely different because you will experience the nature of New Zealand by night. Everything that seems to be so normal by day comes to life by night. The shiny eyes of a cute opossum looking at you from behind a tree, curious wallabies and thousands of glowworms covering the walls of the forest like stars in the sky.
All this we witnessed with our great tour guide Stephen, who picked us up from the hostel. He told us about Rotorua’s history and forestlands, to which we were driving. When we reached the secret location, we were provided with torches and safety vests and we started our journey through the dark and mysterious woods. On the way Stephen was telling us about the fauna and flora, pointing out the most important plants. The wow effect were the glowworms adjacent the waterfall by night. It’s very hard to describe the beauty of the nature that we saw, you just need to experience it by yourself.
After the walk through the Native Forest we headed to a river where we could sit down, have a nice chat and enjoy hot chocolate with biscuits. Stephen’s wife is from South America and she makes really great hot chocolate, of which you can’t get enough!
Day 5: Hobbiton & Taupo
Hobbiton the movie set tour
Visiting New Zealand and not going to Peter Jackson’s famous movie set, where the adventure of the little hobbit Frodo began, is a sin! All tourists know it, that’s why 30% of Hobbiton‘s visitors haven’t even seen the movies and still were willing to pay $114. We’ve been told that the best time to experience hobbiton is in the morning, before the set is full with excited fans. Take the first bus from Rotorua to Hobbiton. The movie set is not the original one, it was rebuilt after the Lord of the Rings trilogy concluded. Because after the movies came out, many people came to the farm where it was filmed. So being a businessman, Peter Jackson decided to cooperate with the farmers again and open the attraction park for their faithful groupies.
The 2 hours guided tour will definitely leave you with an infinite amount of pictures and a happy smile on your face. Hobbiton is indeed an amazing place with incredible scenery that looks so genuine that you would like to choose one of the gardened houses and stay there forever. People who are working here are taking care of every element of the village, even the evergreen lawn grass is perfect! After a fun tour you will be invited for an ale or cider at the Green Dragon.
Must See Orakei Karako
You can only reach the geothermal treasure of nature Orakei Karako by car. It is a 45 minutes drive from Rotorua. It’s a volcanic colorful world of geysers, hot springs, mud pools and silica terraces. To get to the untouched geothermal paradise you need to take a ferry which will bring you to the other side of the lake. Don’t worry, it’s all included in the acceptable price of $36.
On your 1h self-guided tour you will discover 23 active natural geysers, numerous bubbling hot springs and the Ruatapu Cave. This impressive natural cave has a jade-green pool, which is thought to have been used as a mirror by Maori women for ritual preparations. It’s also one of the picturesque geothermal areas that doesn’t have so many visitors because of it’s hidden position. This means you won’t feel crowded when you enjoy the native bushwalk.
The lakeside town of Taupo in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island is one of the most beautiful and tranquil places to visit on your New Zealand North Island 7 days itinerary. The lake is actually an active rhyolitic volcano, which has produced two of the world’s most violent eruptions in recent geological history. The marvelous lake with the crystal clear water is also the largest lake in New Zealand.
Where to stay in Taupo?
We were staying in the centrally located Base Hostel. Base hostel is relatively new, rooms are very modern and the walls are still white. In the kitchen area guests are provided with all possible equipment and even a spacious deck, where you can enjoy your breakfast under the hot sun. The hostel would be ideal if not only for one essential thing: sleep. It’s located just above the Element Bar, which is part of the hostel.
Things to do in the evening in Taupo
Get to know Taupo with the famous boat cruise to the Maori Rock Carvings. The 14-metres artwork above the deep water was completed in 1980 by the team of four artists and is only accessible by boat. Join the evening trip at 4:30 with Ernest Kemp Cruise. Every guest gets spoiled with a cozy vibe, heaps of wine & beer, pizza and even some delicious treats by the end of the almost 3h long trip.
Day 6: Taupo & Wellington
Free Walks in Taupo
The morning is an ideal time to go to see the Huka Falls. Just follow the path next to the river in the opposite direction from the town. It’s one of the best free walks in New Zealand that will lead you to the natural hot springs first. After 30 minutes of walking you can soak into the hot bubbling water in Otumuheke Stream at Taupo’s Spa Park. Just don’t forget to grab a towel, swimwear, a pick-nick basket and 1-2 or even more friends. It’s better to arrive at this place in the morning, because the hot pools are famous but very tiny, so many locals and tourists want to enjoy them too.
The famous Huka Falls, one of the Taupo’s highlights are another 45 minutes away from the natural hot springs. On a sunny day the water on the lakeside walk is crystal clear blue and very inviting. Huka Falls doesn’t look like the waterfalls that we all know, the 220,000 liters of water per second flow horizontally.
Bungy Jumping & Tandem Swing in Taupo
You an also start your day in a thrilling way and get picked up by the Taupo Bungy Team. You can dip your head into the mesmerizing Waikato River from 47 meters high with Taupo Bungy. Definitely try the Tandem Swing. I believe that Bungy is more of a test on how courageous you are and the swing is more about enjoying the butterflies in your stomach and the picturesque view!
Where to eat in Taupo
For the fine eaters I would suggest Plateau. The dishes are masterpieces on the plate which taste divine. The staff is very friendly and polite. The prices are also acceptable.
On the way to Wellington
The drive time from Taupo to your the final destination Wellington is 5 hours. However there are some nice stops on the way. You can have a break at Ohakune for it’s walking and biking trails. Another option is to visit the National Army Museum in Waiouru. My suggestion would be to drive to Kapiti Coast and take a tour to Kapiti Island.
Day 7: Wellington
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand. It has been named the world’s “Coolest Little Capital”. The cosmopolitan is famous for it’s amazing coffee culture and great culinary scene. Definitely check The Ultimate List of the Best Free Things to do in Wellington NZ.
One day would not be enough to see the best of it but here are some suggestions. No doubt you should drive or walk to Mount Victoria and enjoy the panoramic view of the city. Start your walk from the Oriental Bay and stroll on the waterfront, taking time to visit Te Papa museum. Try the best Fish & Chips at The Chippery or check some more of my restaurant and cafe suggestions here. You can also take part in a Weta Workshop tour. The Weta Studios are the best special effects studios in the world.