When my best friend from school informed me about a possible New Zealand trip last November, I immediately took it as an opportunity to explore this beautiful land and planned an 8-day North Island New Zealand road trip for us. Didn’t take me long to convince her to book the tickets as well.
Exploring New Zealand has been my dream for a very long time, so you can imagine the excitement that besieged me as I madly went about planning a perfect road trip that would include activities for my kid as well as keep the adults entertained. North Island is a beautiful mix of natural wonders and cultural riches and I was looking forward to reveling in the lap of nature.
Here’s my North Island New Zealand road trip itinerary. I had to change certain plans due to the availability of spots in Glowworm Cave and Hell’s Experience. Please book your activities beforehand, especially when traveling during peak season. I will soon be writing detailed blogposts on each destination so stay tuned.
Day 1: Arrival in Auckland
After a breezy flight of 3 hours from Sydney, we arrived in Auckland late in the afternoon. We picked up our car from the airport before driving to our accommodation at Waipuna. A lovely place to kickstart our road trip. I even snagged a room with a sunset view. By the time we settled in, dinner beckoned, so we headed out to the dining area. We opted for a buffet that served fresh seafood. The food choices were lip-smacking, especially fresh oysters and prawns cocktails. The desert was a hit with my kid.
Day 2: Whangaparaoa – Shakespeare Reserve and Manly Beach
We started early the next day. From Auckland we drove to Whangaparaoa, planning to explore one of the trails in Shakespeare Reserve. The landscape of Shakespeare Reserve is a lush haven adorned with native flora and fauna. The reserve’s historical significance as a World War II defense site adds a layer of intrigue to its beauty. We stopped by Matakatia Beach, which was filled with sea shells, and then later enjoyed a quiet siesta at Manly Beach where my husband and kid took a nap, while I watched the serene coastal gem, admiring its inviting golden sands and tranquil waters.
Day 3 – Lake Karapiro, Hobbiton and drive to Taupo
The plan for day 3 was to meet up with my friend and drive to Lake Karapiro which was on the way to Hobbiton. Nestled amidst rolling hills, the beautiful Lake Karapiro is a perfect destination for a quiet picnic. I was completely falling in love with this beautiful land. The Hobbiton Movie set wasn’t very far from Lake Karapiro. This meticulously crafted homage to Middle-earth’s Shire is a pilgrimage for fans and a cinematic wonder for all. I will be writing all about it in my future posts.
After enjoying the beauty and uniqueness of Middle Earth, we continued our journey to Lake Taupo.
Day 4 – Huka Falls and Craters of the Moon
Our accommodation was right next to Lake Taupo at Ika Nui Taupo, which presented ample opportunity to admire the lakeside. After a short walk and breakfast in one of the coolest McD restaurants – an airplane that dates back to 1943, we made our way to Huka Falls. Nature’s grandeur unfurled at Huka Falls—a spectacle where the mighty Waikato River funnels into a narrow gorge with breathtaking force and beauty. The bright blue color is intensified by the air bubbles formed in the clear water.
After a few short walks around the reserve, we drove to the Craters of the Moon, a geothermal marvel, that presents a moonscape with its steaming vents and bubbling mud pools, a testament to the island’s volcanic activity.
A fascinating tidbit about the Craters of the Moon near Lake Taupo is its dynamic nature. Unlike other geothermal areas, this site has undergone significant changes in its appearance over the years. The geothermal activity fluctuates, causing alterations in the landscape, with new steam vents emerging and altering the patterns of bubbling mud pools. It’s a living, breathing testament to the Earth’s ever-evolving geothermal activity, making each visit a unique experience!
Day 5: Glowworm caves, Waterfall, drive to Rotorua
We spent the morning relaxing by the waterside, enjoying a scrumptious breakfast, and riding on an electric scooter.
The journey continued to the mystical Waitomo Glowworm Caves, a subterranean wonderland where thousands of luminescent glowworms create a celestial-like ambiance. This was a truly magical experience. I felt like sailing under a sky full of stars. So incredibly bright and marvelous.
We stopped by Marokopa waterfalls before making our way to Rotorua.
Day 6: Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland, Hell’s Gate, and Redwood Forest
In Rotorua, where Maori culture meets geothermal pools, we crashed at Arawa Park Hotel for 2 nights. After a filling breakfast we drove to Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland, which became our artsy escape, a nature masterpiece where hot springs moonlight as lava lamps.
Then, in the afternoon we had booked Hell’s Gate Experience. There wasn’t any devil as such but we discovered Devil’s Bath – a natural sulphuric pool with a temperature of 45 degrees Celsius during the geothermal walk. We lathered ourselves in mud – Maori Maori-style spa day with a side of volcanic vibes. Who knew geothermal could be so therapeutic?
A fun fact about Rotorua is its distinctive nickname, “Sulphur City.” This moniker stems from the city’s remarkable geothermal activity, emitting a distinct scent due to the presence of hydrogen sulphide in the air. The pervasive but not unpleasant aroma, reminiscent of rotten eggs, is a quirky signature of Rotorua’s unique geothermal landscape, making it instantly recognizable to visitors.
After sunset, we found ourselves 10 feet above the ground, suspended between tall redwood trees decorated with lights. The Nightlight skywalk was an experience that we all enjoyed. Even my little one.
Day 7: Redwood forest, Lakes, drive to Tairua
Couldn’t get enough of the Redwood forest, so we decided to see it in the daylight. And we weren’t disappointed. Bathed in morning light, the towering trees transformed the landscape into a magical realm.
Our journey continued to Lake Tarawera and its neighboring lakes – Blue Lake and Green Lake, each endowed with its unique charms that unveiled New Zealand’s unspoiled beauty
Later in the afternoon, we continued our journey to Tairua.
Paku, a tranquil coastal town, provided a night immersed in tranquility and a skyful of stars – a perfect retreat after the island’s myriad experiences. We stayed for a night at Paku Lodge Resort. I wished I had booked a couple of more days here as this place was a haven for nature lovers and those seeking “inner peace”. You might not fully find it, but you’ll surely catch a glimpse.
Day 8: Coromandel coast and drive to Auckland
We embarked on a trek to Paku Summit early in the morning because climbing mountains is the logical first step before breakfast feasting. 🙂 Hot Water Beach was our next stop but our attempts were foiled by high tide as that particular portion of the beach can be accessed only during low tide, so we dipped our toes, took photos, and then toured the Coromandel Coast.
Then we cruised to Auckland, interrupting the journey at scenic spots – pit stops to appreciate New Zealand’s obsession with breathtaking views. Life feels alive in the land of the long white cloud.
We returned to Auckland late in the evening. A stay at the luxurious Rydges Formosa Gold Resort offered a fitting finale. This city, with its diverse cultural offerings and bustling waterfront, provided a perfect bookend to an exploration filled with natural splendor and cultural immersion.
Day 9: Departure
Started the day with a resort breakfast – because nothing says “I’m on vacation” like eating a croissant in paradise. Followed by our airport antics where we went souvenir shopping, mud face mask hunting, and a farewell photoshoot. We boarded our flight in the afternoon. Home-sweet chaos awaited. 🙂
From historical reserves to geothermal wonders and cinematic landscapes, each destination painted a vivid picture of the North Island’s magical beauty. This journey was not just a trip but a journey through history, nature, and fantasy. And it also sparked my eagerness to organize a trip to New Zealand’s South Island. 🙂
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