15 Day Lower North Island New Zealand itinerary

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Your New Zealand itinerary takes you on a circular route through the lower half of New Zealand's beautiful North Island.

Explore the cultural delights of the nation's Capital, Wellington, before heading north to the wineries and art deco architecture of Napier.

Gisborne's coastal charm awaits, then its over to the lovely lakeside town of Lake Taupo.

Rotorua's Maori cultural and thermal attractions are some of the most popular in the country, as are the limestone caves at Waitomo.

Come and see the North Island!

Handy Tips

1) You can view your interactive route map at the bottom of the page

2) Feel free to hire a car and use this itinerary as a guide, or fill out the form at the bottom of the page to talk to one of our local experts about a fully packaged self drive tour.

3) Place your cursor on a picture for a description of the picture.



Day by day -  click on each day for more detail, then when you finish just click on your browsers back button to return here

Day 1 - arrive in Wellington

Day 2 - explore the Nation's Capital

Day 3 - Wellington to Napier and Hawke's Bay

Day 4 - explore the wonders of Napier & Hawke's Bay

Day 5 - Napier to Gisborne

Day 6 - Gisborne to Taupo

Day 7 - beautiful Taupo

Day 8 - Taupo to Rotorua, thermal wonderland

Day 9 - geysers, mud pools and Maori culture in Rotorua

Day 10 - Rotorua to Waitomo Caves

Day 11 - Waitomo to New Plymouth

Day 12 - New Plymouth to Wellington

Day 13 - the wonders of Wellington

Day 14 - Wellington continued

Day 15 - Wellington to home



Day 1 New Zealand Itinerary - Arrive In New Zealand's Capital, Wellington

Welcome to New Zealand's North Island.

Today you arrive in New Zealand's capital, Wellington.

Wellington's Copthorne Oriental Bay - we thank them for the image

Where to stay in Wellington

We have to admit that we have a preference for the Copthorne Oriental Bay. It looks out over the harbor and is close to the city and dozens of cafes, pubs and restaurants.

But of course there are so many choices in Wellington, and we have some other special spots that are highly recommended by other guests. Your best idea is to hop on over to our dedicated Wellington page then scroll down to the accommodation section.

Or, if you would rather, just click here to search through the huge range of accommodation on offer in Wellington.



Day 2 Explore Wellington

Don't forget your rental car

Did you know that we can offer market leading rates on all the major rental car brands?

The beautiful Maori Meeting House inside Te Papa museum - we thank them for the picture

So it doesn't matter if you need a small hatchback or a motorhome, we can help.

To see our huge range and check availability, click here.

Now it's time to explore

With a strong cafe culture, Wellington has literally hundreds of dining options, with various harbor front eateries providing excellent food and views. And if you are anything like us, a hearty breakfast is the perfect way to start the day.

Te Papa New Zealand's National Museum - pic courtesy Te Papa

There's so much to see and do in Wellington

Don't worry if you can't fit everything in now. Remember you have a couple of days back here at the end of your trip.

Highly recommended are:

* a visit to Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. As New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa is a must see on your trip. Spread over five floors, and crammed full of New Zealand artifacts, interactive displays and hands on child friendly exhibits, Te Papa will occupy you for many hours.

You can read about one of their great guided tours here.

The famous Wellington Cable Car makes its way up Kelburn Hill - pic courtesy Ian Trafford

* a trip on the Wellington Cable Car takes you up 122 metres to a wonderful viewing area, overlooking Wellington. Here you can also visit the Wellington Cable Car Museum.

As an alternative to catching the cable car back down, a walk will take you through the Botanic Gardens.

* take a relaxing walk along Wellington's beautiful waterfront.

* visit the amazing Weta Caves Workshops and learn all about the many famous works of Peter Jackson from Lord of the Rings fame.



Days 3 & 4 Wellington to Napier and Hawke's Bay

Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you to Napier (4.5 hours drive).

The stunning Cape Kidnappers

Located in the Hawkes Bay region , Napier is a lovely sea side town and has a variety of beach front hotels and apartments.

You can find your perfect hotel here.

Napier, and nearby Hastings, were devastated by a massive earthquake in 1931, in which 258 people were killed. Approximately 40 square kilometres of today's Napier, was undersea before being raised by the quake.

Following the quake, the town was rebuilt in the Art Deco style of the era, and Napier is now recognised as one of the best examples of Art Deco architecture in the world.

Today on your New Zealand itinerary you are free to explore Napier and surrounds.

There is plenty to see and do in Napier. Popular activities are:

* take a guided Art Deco tour of Napier

Enjoying the views on a Hawke's Bay wine tour

* Art deco weekend, held each year in February, is a festival of food, wine, music, vintage car displays, and all things art deco


* visit the many local wineries. Recognized as a producer of fine wines, Hawke's bay offers wine buffs a wide range of choice. Here's some of the more highly rated wine tours (we find that it's always safer to leave the car at the motel and let someone else do the driving) - click here.

* visit the National Aquarium of New Zealand, located on Marine Parade Napier

* have a game of golf at the spectacular world rated Cape Kidnappers



Day 5 Napier to Gisborne / Eastland

Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you to Gisborne (3 hours drive).

Where to stay in Gisborne

Our recommendation is a waterfront motel (yep, because the views are awesome).

A stunning spot on the Lake Waikaremoana Track in Eastland - pic courtesy Chris McLennan

There are several that offer water front locations, but one of the most popular is the Whispering Sands Beachfront Motel. Yes, it is beach front, and its about 10 minutes walk from the town center.

Check it out and read customer reviews here.

If it's not to your taste, you can search through a range of other Gisborne accommodation here.

Located at the north end of Poverty Bay, Gisborne can lay claim, at least for part of the year, to being the first city in the world to see the morning sun.

Gisborne has a wide range of accommodation, and lots to see and do. Deep sea fishing, trout fishing, diving, kayaking, heli tours, hiking, rafting, wine tours, and steam train journeys are just some of the activities available in Gisborne and surrounds.



Days 6 & 7 Gisborne to Taupo

Today you travel from Gisborne to Taupo (4.5 hours drive).

Lake Taupo is New Zealand's largest lake, with a surface area of 616 square kilometers. It is also the largest freshwater lake (by surface area) in Oceania.

Take a cruise on Lake Taupo to see the Maori rock art

A noted trout fishery, the area is popular with anglers and boat owners. New Zealand's longest river, the mighty Waikato River flows from Lake Taupo.

Where to stay in Taupo

We always like a lake view and one of our favorites is Baycrest Lodge. Great lake views, nice clean, modern rooms and a very relaxing heated pool. There's nothing better than sitting on your balcony with a beer or glass of New Zealand wine, and gazing at this wonderful landscape.

Of course there are lots of other choices. The Acapulco Motor Inn and Sails on the Lake are both very popular and well rated.

You can search for lots of other accommodation in Taupo here.

What to do in Taupo?

There is plenty to see & do in the Taupo region, and here are some suggestions:

Luxury at Huka Lodge - what a location.

* trout fishing-as one of New Zealand's premier trout fishing destinations, Taupo also offers some of the best trout fishing in the world. Do it yourself, or better still, take a guided tour and learn from the experts. Catch your own dinner. What could be better!

* Craters of the Moon is a geothermal area offering steaming vents, and boiling mud,

* Huka Falls - although only 3 meters high, over 200,000 liters per second roar over the falls. One of the best ways to see the falls is on a thrilling jetboat ride. Amazing!

For a real treat, the exclusive Huka Lodge overlooks Huka Falls.

Huka Lodge has been "home" to an endless stream of celebrities and royalty over the years, and offers guests an almost unrivaled hospitality experience.

A jetboat ride to Huka Falls is an exhilarating experience

Exceptional service, superb accommodation, and fine cuisine using the best of local produce, make Huka Lodge one of the finest in the world,

* Tongariro Crossing, universally described as "the best one day walk in the world", offers spectacular scenery, dramatic volcanic landscapes and amazing vistas.

Parts of the film Lord of the Rings were filmed here, and if you are feeling energetic, this could very well prove to be a highlight of your New Zealand itinerary.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) website has lots of information - click here.

Shuttle services are available that will pick you up from your hotel, take you to the start of the Crossing, provide you with a map, then pick you up when you finish.

It's a relatively cheap day out. You can get more information here.



Days 8 & 9 Rotorua, Thermal Wonderland

Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you to New Zealand's premier thermal resort of Rotorua (1 hour drive).

Rotorua Museum - pic courtesy Vaughan Brookfield

Rotorua accommodation

There are dozens and dozens of accommodation options in Rotorua.

We like the Millenium because it's centrally located and has great views overlooking the lake (be sure though to ask for a lake view room). They also have a restaurant, bar, spa, and hot pools, so it's a great place to unwind at the end of the day.

You can search through a wide range of Rotorua hotels, read reviews, and make bookings here.

Now it's time to explore the wonders of Rotorua

Today you are free to explore Rotorua. Rotorua is a bustling centre, famous for it's geo-thermal activity. Home to bubbling mud pools, geysers, sulphur crusted lakes, and an ever present smell of sulphur, Rotorua is a fascinating place, and a must see on your North Island trip.

Rotorua's Pohutu Geyser

Built on the shores of Lake Rotorua (at 80 square kilometres, the North Island's second largest lake), Rotorua is a beautiful town, best viewed from the Skyline Gondola, which transports visitors to the top of Mt Ngongotaha (487m).

There is lots to see & do in Rotorua, but always popular are:

* the luge at the top of Mt Ngongotaha. Three separate tracks wind their way down the hill side, and you will become addicted to the thrill provided by the small sit on carts. When you reach the bottom, a chairlift returns you to the top to do it all over again. Great fun, if a little expensive.

* Rotorua Museum of Art and History. Winner of numerous awards, the museum should be one of your first stops in Rotorua.

The museum focuses on the history and culture of the area, in particular that of the local iwi (tribe), Te Arawa. The museum houses many artefacts, four original 1908 mud baths,

The Champagne Pools Rotorua - pic courtesy Chris McLennan

a tribute to B Company of the 28th (Maori) Battalion who lost over 600 men in battles during World War 2, and a presentation on the Tarawera eruption of 1886.

* Te Puia. Visited by over half a million people each year, Te Puia combines Maori cultural experiences and geothermal action in one location.

Music and dance shows, weaving and carving, including some large ornate timber pieces, and the welcoming Maori hosts, allow visitors a unique insight of maori culture. Te Puia is also home to the New Zealand maori Arts and Crafts Institute.

The thermal area has a variety of boiling mud pools, steaming vents and geysers. New Zealand's largest geyser, Pohutu, erepts regularly, reaching heights up to 30 meters.

Experience Maori culture and tradition at Tamaki Maori Village

* Wai-o-Tapu is a geothermal smorgasboard of activity. Active for over 150,000 years, the area offers boiling mud pools and springs, a series of amazing colored lakes, and a geyser, the Lady Knox Geyser, erupts promptly at 10.15 a.m. each day.

* trout fishing is popular in the area, and guided tours are available. Book a guided fly fishing tour and learn from the experts.

* visit the actual Hobbiton movie set and see where the epic was filmed

* experience what it was like for the traditional Maori people with a visit to Tamaki Maori Village, a recreation of a Maori settlement. And you can even enjoy a "hangi" feast, cooked in the ground.



Day 10 Rotorua to Waitomo Caves

Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you from Rotorua to Waitomo, home of the Waitomo Caves (2.5 hours drive).

Millions of glowworms on display at Waitomo Caves - pic courtesy Waitomo.com

Where to stay?

Waitomo village is quite small but there are several accommodation choices in and around the village. You can check them out here.

The nearby town of Te Kuiti (population around 4,000) also has a choice of accommodation, and you can see what's available and read customer reviews here.

Waitomo Caves are one of New Zealand's most popular attractions

The complex includes the unforgettable Ruakuri Cave, Aranui Cave, and the spectacular Glowworm Caves. The caves are a must see, and you will marvel at the display as thousands of tiny glowworms radiate their gentle glow. Expert guides will provide expert commentary on the caves history as you make your way through the complex.

If you crave something a little more adventurous, why not try black water rafting. 3 or 5 hour adventures will have you jumping, weaving, abseiling, and tubing through Ruakuri Caves glowworm lit waters. The operator, the Black Water Rafting company, have been in operation for over 20 years, and have guided over half a million visitors through this underground wonderland.

What types of tours are available?

There are a range of popular tours available (including blackwater rafting and tubing).

If you just want to see the glowworms, then the Glowworm Caves Guided Tour is very popular. This is the tour that takes you on a serene boat ride under thousands of tiny glowworms. There are regular departures throughout the day for this 45 minute tour.

Blackwater Rafting tour Waitomo Caves

If you are looking for something a little "wilder", the Blackwater Rafting tours might be for you.

Choose from the three hour Labyrinth tour or the five hour Black Abyss (which adds abseiling to the adventure)! These are amazing tours.

You can read about them here.

Show me all the tours available

You can see the full range, read reviews, and make bookings here.



Day 11 Waitomo Caves to New Plymouth

Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you to the Taranaki region's major centre, New Plymouth (2.5 hours drive).

New Plymouth with Mt Taranaki in the background - pic courtesy Rob Tucker

Located on the west coast of the North Island, New Plymouth is somewhat unique, in being a coastal city which has a mountain within 30 minutes drive.

Mount Taranaki (also known as Mount Egmont) stands at 2,518 meters and allows visitors to New Plymouth to snowboard, ski, and surf, all on the same day.

You will find a wide range of places to stay and things to do in New Plymouth.



Days 12, 13 & 14 Wellington

Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you from New Plymouth back to New Zealand's capital, Wellington (4.5 hours drive).

Weta Cave Workshop in Wellington

With two free days to explore Wellington, there is lots to see and do.

For lots more information, check out our dedicated Wellington page here.

Visit the National War Memorial, the New Zealand Parliament buildings or perhaps Wellington Zoo.

Or dine along the stunning waterfront at one of the many bars and restaurants.

The region is also a a popular wine growing region, and tours of wineries are freely available.

Explore the region's many bays and beaches, or take a walk along the many trails which cross the region.



Day 15 Wellington to Home

Unfortunately, today your New Zealand vacation comes to an end and you fly home.

We hope that you have enjoyed this New Zealand itinerary, and that you will return in the future to see more of this spectacular country.

We welcome feedback on this New Zealand itinerary. If you would like to comment please feel free to contact us.




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