Here’s the perfect six-day road trip itinerary through New Zealand’s North Island – including where to stay, what to see, and what to pack!
With spectacular volcanoes, beaches galore, ancient caves, and cute bohemian towns, you won’t run out of things to do in New Zealand’s north island.
New Zealand is made up of two large islands – the North Island and the South Island — and I recently had the opportunity to rent a campervan and road trip through the north. I visited waterfalls, went hiking, and relaxed in geothermal pools. I swam in pristine waters and boated through some of the most beautiful glowworm caves in the world.
Because we only had six days in New Zealand, we focused on everything south of Auckland, but if you have more time, then going north of Auckland is definitely worth it too. We visited the Bay of Islands during our 17-Day South Pacific cruise, so we decided to head south for our short road trip.
Here’s the perfect six-day road trip itinerary through New Zealand’s North Island (including where to stay, what to see, and what to pack!)
North Island New Zealand Road Trip – 6 Day Itinerary
Day 1 & 2: Auckland & Coromandel Peninsula
In my opinion, Auckland is the perfect city in which to start a North Island New Zealand road trip. While I only had the chance to pass through Auckland, there is so much to do in this city and if you have more time, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Some of the top things to do in Auckland are getting some panoramic views from atop the Sky Tower, visiting the vineyards on Waiheke Island, and going on a foodie tour (Auckland has a world-class food scene).
From Auckland, head on over to the Coromandel Peninsula. There’s a ferry that goes across the harbor twice a week, but driving this route will only take you two and a half hours.
Since we skipped Auckland on our visit, we gave ourselves two days on the Coromandel Peninsula. There’s so much to see here that we could have easily spent 4 days!
On the Coromandel Peninsula, Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove are must-do’s, but you’ll also find the Kauri Forest, Historic Coromandel Town, Geothermal Springs, Driving Creek Railway, and plenty of hiking and biking trails.
Day 3: Hobbiton & Rotorua
Whether you’re a diehard fan of Lord of the Rings or not, Hobbiton is an iconic stop for any North Island New Zealand road trip. Depending on where you start your day on the Coromandel Peninsula, driving to Hobbiton will take you anywhere from two to three hours.
For those of you not in the know, Hobbiton was used as a set in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies and is located on a farm in New Zealand’s Waikato region. At Hobbiton, you’ll be exploring the unique facades carved into the hillsides, having pints at the Green Dragon pub, and taking too many cute photos to count.
However, to visit Hobbiton, you’ll have to book a guided tour. This is 100% for the best though, as you’ll get so much more out of the experience with a trained guide telling you all the juicy behind-the-scenes details from the movies.
Once you’ve finished exploring Hobbiton, hop back in the car and head over to Rotorua!
Roughly an hour’s drive away from Hobbiton, Rotorua is one of the most renowned nature spots in the area. Comprised of geysers, hot springs, lakes, bike trails, great camping spots, and tons of culture, the only downside to Rotorua is that you’ll eventually have to tear yourself away from it.
In particular, I had a blast zorbing (did you know that rolling around in a giant inflatable ball was invented in NZ?), camping lakeside, and hitting up the thermal pools.
Also located in Rotorua is The Redwoods at Whakarewarewa Forest.
There’s so much history and culture surrounding this area, and there are tons of outdoorsy things to do. The forest itself covers almost 14,000 acres and features amazing hikes, lakes, thermal pools, boardwalks, and extreme sports.
If you’re into mountain biking, then this is especially the place for you as The Redwoods is the hub of the sport in Rotorua. In fact, it was awarded gold-level ride status by the IMBA – the International Mountain Biking Association.
Day 4: Kerosene Creek & Waikite Valley Thermal Pools
Put on your favorite bathing suit because Day 4 of your North Island New Zealand Road trip is all about thermal pools!
Technically still located in Rotorua, Kerosene Creek is 30km from The Redwoods and is the perfect place to go and have a geothermally-heated soak in a stream. Hot water bubbles up from a natural spring in the earth and mixes with the cold water of Kerosene Creek, creating pleasantly warm waters.
There’s no admission cost at Kerosene Creek, but it can be a popular spot so be prepared to see quite a few other people (especially if you visit on a weekend).
From Kerosene Creek, drive just 10km down the road to the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools — the largest source of 100% pure geothermal water in New Zealand. Here, you can soak in the spring, relax in a tranquil garden, head over to one of the many private spas, or go on an eco-trail guided walk.
We stayed the night at Waikite Valley Thermal Pools and walked right over to the thermal pools for an early-morning soak. The thermal pools include laundry, kitchen facilities, and a shower.
Day 5: Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Roughly a two-hour drive from the Thermal Pools, the Waitomo Glowworm Caves are one of New Zealand’s most famous attractions. Home to the Arachnocampa Luminosa, a kind of glowworm only found in New Zealand, the Waitomo Glowworm Caves feature thousands of glowing larvae.
In order to see the caves, you’ll have to book yourself a guided tour. These tours will tell you all about the history of the caves (they started forming 30 million years ago), the animals that live there, and introduce you to the stalactites and stalagmites. These tours have been running for over 100 years, so going on one will be participating in a piece of history in and of itself!
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Day 6: Raglan
Located 100km northwest of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Raglan is an inviting surf town full of natural beauty and culture.
Here, learn to surf on one of the many beaches (Ngarunui Beach is especially popular), visit the towering Bridal Veil Falls, hike Mt Karioi, check out one of the many art galleries, and take a harbor cruise!
Additional Options for A Longer North Island Road Trip
Six days on New Zealand’s North Island is really just a taster, and there is so much more to do if you plan to stay longer. For some additional trip planning inspiration, check out these options:
Roughly an hour’s drive from Auckland, Karekare Waterfall is a 30-meter tall waterfall that is home to a little rest area and pool.
Once you get to the Karekare Waterfall trailhead, there will be a 0.5 mile out and back trail to get to the waterfall itself. This is a pretty easy trail to traverse (although it’s not wheelchair friendly), and it will lead you to a shallow pool at the base of the falls.
If you’re up for a water adventure, then head over to Lake Taupo in the Waikato Region.
A prime spot for kayaking, sailing, swimming, fishing, or other water sports, Taupo was created roughly 200 years ago by a giant volcanic eruption. Because of this, you’ll be able to enjoy geothermal underwater currents at some of Taupo’s beaches.
Located just north of Taupo lies Huka falls, one of New Zealand’s most visited attractions. More than 220,000 liters of water fall off the cliff of Huka Falls every second, making this 11-meter waterfall absolutely thunderous.
Bay of Islands
If you’re up for an adventure north of Auckland, then check out the Bay of Islands. Comprised of 144 islands located between the Purerua Peninsula and Cape Brett, the Bay of Islands is where to go to see the Hole in the Rock on Piercy Island, beautiful seaside trails, and lots of wildlife viewing.
For true island paradise vibes in New Zealand, art-filled Waiheke Island is the place to be. Getting to the island is as simple as taking a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland, and there’s tons to do here for all types.
On the island, check out one of the islands many cliff-top hiking trails, book yourself on a vineyard tour, or simply lay back, meet some locals, and relax on the beautiful beaches.
Just west of Auckland, Piha beach features beautiful black sand, untouched forest, and some of the best surf in the country.
Piha beach is especially popular with locals in the summertime, but keep in mind that the currents tend to run strong here. There are usually lifeguards patrolling the area, but be sure to keep to the clearly marked swimming areas.
If you want to see a cave filled with glow worms but without the crowds, then check out Nikau Cave! Located just 90 minutes southwest of Auckland, the cave is home to all kinds of wildlife, thousands of glowworms, and ancient rock formations.
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Located in the middle of the Karangahake Gorge about 2 hours from Auckland, Owharoa Falls is an easily-accessible waterfall that is also a great swimming spot and picnic area.
If you want to do more in the area, then further exploring the Karangahake Gorge is recommended. There are plenty of old walkways, bike trails, and tunnels to explore, and there is rich gold mining history to uncover.
One of the most popular treks for local Kiwi’s, summit Pinnacles hike for one of the country’s best views. The hike itself is 16.6 kilometers long and takes roughly 8 hours to loop — if you want a more leisurely day then be prepared to pack overnight gear.
Keep in mind that there are a lot of stairs to get to the top of the pinnacle, and you’ll have to climb up some metal ladders. So, while the hike itself is fairly moderate, there are parts near the end that will take an extra boost of energy.
That said, the view from the top is amazing and the trek is definitely worth it.
Where to Stay in North Island New Zealand
While there are tons of accommodation options all over the North Island of New Zealand, we wanted the freedom to camp off grid, if necessary, so we rented a campervan and stayed at holiday parks and campgrounds — there are plenty of sites to choose from near all the spots listed in this article.
To find the best campsites, I recommend downloading Rankers Camping NZ from the app store. You’ll find reviews for each campground and filters that include nearby hikes, natural attractions and useful campground amenities.
On many of our road trips throughout the years, we often book at Airbnbs as I find it really gives us an idea of what it’s like to be a local in the places we visit. So if camping isn’t your thing, I highly recommend checking out the Airbnb options in these locations.
What to Pack for a North Island New Zealand Road Trip
Hiking Gear: If you plan on going hiking, then a pair of trusty hiking shoes are a must. I also recommend bringing a daypack, bug spray, sunscreen, leggings, a moisture-wicking top, and a light rain jacket.
Warm Clothes: Bringing warm clothing is a must for winter in New Zealand, but spring and fall can be pretty chilly as well. Pack a warm sweater, some light gloves, a scarf, and fleece-lined leggings for just in case.
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