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U.S.FTC GUIDELINES PLEASE NOTE: we act as an affiliate for several companies that feature on our website. In some cases we may earn a commission from referrals to those companies. For further information please refer to our Privacy and Disclaimer policies which can be found in the "US" tab.

21 Day North Island Showcase New Zealand itinerary

Use this itinerary as a guide to plan your trip

Welcome to the beautiful North Island

Itinerary 9 New Route Map Feb 2024

This 21 day North Island New Zealand itinerary takes you to all the North Island hot spots.

From the beaches and bays of the beautiful Bay of Islands and Coromandel regions, to Rotorua's Maori cultural and geothermal delights. From Taranaki's volcanoes, to Lake Taupo, the vineyards of Hawke's Bay, and the cultural charms of Wellington, this itinerary covers them all.

And with three weeks, you have plenty of time to savor the best of the North Island.

Handy Tips

1) You can view your New Zealand itinerary on an 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.

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

Day by day -  click on each day for more details about your New Zealand itinerary. Then when you finish, just click on your browsers back button to return here

Day 1 - Arrive in Auckland

Day 2 - Explore the City of Sails

Day 3 - Auckland to the beautiful Bay of Islands

Day 4 - Explore the Bay of Islands

Day 5 - Bay of Islands to the stunning Coromandels

Day 6 - Explore the Coromandels

Day 7 - Coromandels to Mt Maunganui, Bay of Plenty

Day 8 - Mt Maunganui to Rotorua

Day 9 - Explore Rotorua thermal delights

Day 10 - Rotorua to Waitomo Caves

Day 11 - Waitomo to New Plymouth

Day 12 - New Plymouth to Taupo

Day 13 - Explore Taupo

Day 14 - Taupo to Whakatane

Day 15 - Whakatane to Gisborne

Day 16 - Gisborne to Napier

Day 17 - Explore Napier & Hawke's Bay

Day 18 - Napier to Wellington

Day 19 - Explore the Nation's Capital, Wellington

Day 20 - Explore Wellington

Day 21 - Wellington to home

Days 1 & 2 Auckland

Today on the first day of your New Zealand itinerary, you arrive in New Zealand's largest city, Auckland. Auckland is a bustling city with a population of around 1.4 million. Auckland also has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world.

Often referred to as the "City of Sails", Auckland has two natural harbours, and a warmer climate than many other areas of New Zealand, allowing locals and visitors to make the most of it's wonderful location.

Stunning Waiheke Island. Picture courtesy

Do you need help with a rental car or camper van for your New Zealand itinerary?

If you need a car or camper for your trip, we can help.

With access to all of the leading rental companies, we have a huge range of vehicles available, at market leading rates.

To search our range and check availability, just click here.

Find your perfect Auckland accommodation right here

As a major city, Auckland has a huge range of accommodation.

The view from the Hilton Hotel Auckland

If you just need a hostel, there are dozens available. Motels are easily found as are apartments and five star resorts.

Before booking, we strongly recommend reading customer reviews. It's a good way of sorting the "good" from the "bad".

Who do we recommend?

Or, to see our recommendations, hop over to our dedicated Auckland page here. As well as our accommodation tips, this page has lots more helpful information about things to see and do in and around Auckland.

You can also search for your Auckland accommodation and read reviews by clicking here.

To find accommodation near the Auckland airport click here.

For hotels in the city click here.

To search for hostel accommodation in and around Auckland click here.

The penguin display at Kelly Tarlton's in Auckland

So much to see and do here

As befits a city of this size, Auckland has lots to see and do, and you will find it one of the highlights of your New Zealand itinerary.

One of Auckland's most popular attractions is Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World, which was the world's first walk through, tunnel aquarium. Here you can see over 60 species of fish, including rays and sharks, and breeding colonies of gentoo and king penguins. It's a great place for all the family with lots of excellent displays.

Auckland's Sky Tower is the Southern Hemisphere's tallest building, at 328 metres.

Auckland at dusk - pic courtesy Chris McLennan

The high-speed elevators take visitors to three observation decks, in 40 seconds, where you will enjoy 360 degree views of Auckland and surrounds. We don't mind heights and found the views were jaw dropping, particularly on the clear day that we had.

But if you are feeling a bit more adventurous, you can even SkyJump from the tower, or take a SkyWalk from a platform 192 meters above the ground!

Waiheke Island is the most populated and accessible of the Hauraki Gulf islands, and is a 30 minute ferry ride from Auckland. The island has several beautiful beaches, and numerous cafes, wineries and restaurants.

Spend at least a half a day there to explore and sample the local produce.

If you would like to see a selection of the best Waiheke Island tours just click here.

Great views on the Auckland Harbor Bridge Climb

One of the most popular tours is the "Best of Waiheke". This full day tour includes a thrilling zipline adventure, lunch, wine tasting, and your return ferry ticket. It's a great fun filled day and the perfect way to see the island.

A trip to Waiheke leaves you in no doubt as to why Aucklanders love their city so much.

Other suggestions

With such stunning harbors it's no wonder that life here revolves around them. To get an appreciation for these beautiful waterways, we can highly recommend the Auckland Harbor Dinner Cruise. The harbor takes on a different feel when you are out on it with the wind in your hair.

Auckland also has a very well known Harbor Bridge, which attracts thousands of visitors every year. Two of the most popular bridge activities are the bridge climb and the thrilling bungy jump from the bridge. Either way, the views are awesome.

Days 3 & 4 Bay of Islands

Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you north from Auckland on State Highway 1, to the beautiful Bay of Islands (3.75 hours drive).

Tours to the Hole in the Rock are popular in the Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands, located in the Northland region, have been a tourist favorite for decades. Aptly named, the region features stunning coastal scenery and various small sea side townships such as Russell and Paihia (population approx. 2,000), and Whangaroa (population approx. 3,000). Nearby Kerikeri has a population of approx. 7,000.

Where to stay

Accommodation options are many and varied.

A water view is always recommended if your budget allows.

Here are some direct links for accommodation options in the major centers:


Paihia (best for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds)



Time to explore

Today in your New Zealand itinerary you are free to explore the Bay of Islands.

There are a wide range of activities in the region.

Northland Te Whare Runanga Maori Meeting House Courtesy

Recommended activities are:

  • visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, located near Paihia. Described as the "birthplace of the nation", the historic Treaty of Waitangi was signed here in 1840. The Treaty House and carved meeting house are not to be missed. Maori arts and craft exhibitions, and Maori cultural shows are a feature of the grounds. Guided tours are available here.
  • take a cruise to Cape Brett and the Hole in the Rock, a cave that is large enough to accommodate large boats.
  • visit Russell. Once known as the "Hellhole of the Pacific", Russell was notorious for it's brothels, alcohol, and lawlessness. Russell was also New Zealand's capital for a brief period. Accessed by a short ferry ride from Paihia, Russell is now a charming sea side village with various waterfront cafes and craft shops.
  • take a kayak trip in the bay. Calm, clear waters are ideal for kayaking and there are a number of operators offering guided kayak tours.

Days 5 & 6 The Coromandel Coast

Today your North Island itinerary takes you south from the Bay of Islands to the equally picturesque Coromandels (5 hours drive).

Stunning New Chum's Beach - picture courtesy Destination Coromandel

The Coromandel Coast extends north for 85 kilometres from the western end of the Bay of Plenty.

40 kilometres wide at it's broadest point, the peninsula shelters the Hauraki Gulf. Auckland lies on the western side of the gulf and can be seen in fine weather.

Thames is the region's largest town, with other settlements including Coromandel Town, Whangamata, Waihi, Paeroa, & Whitianga.

Where to stay

The peninsula is reasonably compact so you never have to travel too far to see the best bits. For New Chum's Beach and Hot Water Beach, Whitianga is centrally located between the two.

Make your own spa bath at Hot Water Beach - pic courtesy Destination Coromandel

Here are some links for accommodation in the main centers:

* for Whitianga hotels

* for Thames accommodation

* Coromandel Town hotels

* Whangamata accommodation

* the Coromandel region

The main attractions - you will be amazed

Perhaps one of the most popular and unusual attractions in the Coromandels, is Hot Water Beach.

A natural hot water spring at the Southern end of the beach is accessible only two hours each side of low tide.

The water can be very hot, and finding a spot at the right temperature can be a challenge, particularly on an incoming tide. But if you get just the right spot, it's an exhilarating experience.

The region is well known for its beautiful beaches, and Cathedral Cove is one of the better known spots. The beach has two parts, linked by a cave (Cathedral Cove), and is reached via a well kept track. The journey takes around 45 minutes.

New Chums Beach, located on the north east coast of the peninsula, was rated as one of the world's top ten beaches, and a trip there will leave you in no doubt about its lofty ranking.

Snorkeling at Cathedral Cove - image courtesy Tourism Coromandel

Thames, the largest settlement on the peninsula, has an old world feel, and the architecture in the main street is very 1900s.

If you are interested in the region's history, Thames Historical Museum is well worth a visit.

The Coromandel Coast is a lovely part of New Zealand and we know that you will enjoy the wonderful bays and beaches of this New Zealand favourite.

Day 7 Mount Maunganui

Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you from the Coromandels to the seaside resort of Mt Maunganui (2.5 hours drive). Located on the Bay of Plenty, Mt Maunganui has some of New Zealand's best surf beaches.

Great coastal views from the summit of Mt Maunganui - pic courtesy Chris McLennan

There is a wide range of accommodation in Mount Maunganui. As you can see from the picture, the golden beaches stretch for miles, and we always try to stay beach front, for those views.

Here's a link to some of the most popular, highly rated accommodation - click here.

What are the best things to see and do here?

The region is a popular with tourists and locals alike, with many activities being water based.

Whale watching and swimming with the dolphins gives you a chance to get close to local marine life, and there are a number of tours available in the area.

You can walk to the top of the "Mount" for some of the best views in the North Island. The walk up takes about 45 minutes and is quite steep. There's also a base track which is suitable for prams and wheel chairs, and it too can be completed in about 45 minutes.

A "must see" is White Island, located in the Bay of Plenty. White Island is made up of three volcanic cones, and is one of New Zealand's most active volcanoes. Tours to the island can be made by boat or helicopter, and can include a crater walk if desired.

Hard hats and gas masks are supplied, and although tremors are common, the last major eruption was in 2000. There have been no eruptions while visitors have been on the island.

The steam from the island is often visible from the mainland.

White Island is the perfect introduction to your next destination, Rotorua.

Days 8 & 9 Rotorua

Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you inland to the thermal resort of Rotorua (1.5 hours drive).

Rotorua's Champagne Pools

Rotorua is one of New Zealand's major tourist attractions, and apart from the thermal attractions, the area is also well known for its Maori cultural displays.

Rotorua is located on the bank's of Lake Rotorua, which is the North Island's second largest lake at 80 square kilometres.

Find a hotel and relax for the evening.

Today on your New Zealand itinerary you are free to explore Rotorua and its many attractions. With such a wide range of activities, Rotorua will be one of the highlights of your New Zealand itinerary.

The National Carving School at Te puia Rotorua - pic courtesy Eric Lindber

Perhaps the main attraction is Te Puia, the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, which includes Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Valley. Attracting over half a million visitors annually, this is one of New Zealand's main tourist attractions. Here you will see Maori cultural displays, Maori arts and crafts, including intricate carvings, a fully carved wharenui (meeting house), and the world famous Pohutu geyser.

Other points of interest in Rotorua are:

Tim and I lakefront at Rotorua way back in 1999

* the Skyline Gondola and luge ride. Cable cars take the 900 metre journey to the top of Mt Ngongotaha (487 metres) where you will enjoy stunning views of Rotorua and surrounds. The luge ride is great fun as you ride your kart down one of three tracks. Then return to the top by chairlift, and do it all over again!

* Hell's Gate/Tikitere, which is considered to be the most active of Rotorua's thermal areas, contains an active mud volcano and hot waterfall.

* the Polynesian Spa, located lake side, has a selection of hot pools overlooking the lake.

* visit Tamaki Maori Village for a taste of what life was like for the traditional Maori people.

* take a tour of the famous Hobbiton movie set, a must do for all Lord of the Rings fans.

Our dedicated Rotorua page has lots more information on what to see and do in Rotorua.

Day 10 Waitomo

Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you to the Waitomo Caves (2.5 hours drive). Check in to your hotel then head to the famous Waitomo Caves.

Glowworms in the Ruakuri Cave, Waitomo Caves - pic courtesy

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.

Check out available tours here.

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.

Day 11 New Plymouth

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

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

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 metres and allows visitors to New Plymouth to snowboard, ski, and surf, all on the same day.

You will find a wide range of accommodation and things to do in New Plymouth. There's lots more information on our Taranaki page here.

Days 12 & 13 Lake Taupo

Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you to the lovely lake side town of Lake Taupo (4.5 hours drive).

Find your hotel then explore after lunch (check out our favorite, Baycrest Lodge).

The Maori rock carvings Lake Taupo

There is an abundance of activities in Lake Taupo. As New Zealand's largest lake, Taupo offers a wide variety of water based things to do.

The area is famous for trout fishing, and the Tongariro River is Lake Taupo's main spawning river, famous for the size and quality of its fish.

Mountain biking, hiking, and bungy jumping, jetboating (up to the thundering Huka Falls), whitewater rafting and skydiving are all available in Taupo.

For something a bit more serene, why not take a cruise to the Maori rock carvings on Lake Taupo

The region is also home to Huka lodge, one of the finest luxury lodges in the world. Offering world class accommodation, facilities, location, and service Huka Lodge is something special.

Day 14 Whakatane

Today your New Zealand itinerary takes you to Whakatane (2.5 hours

Bay of Plenty Jetboating On The Kaituna At Paengaroa

drive). Located on the eastern side of the Bay of plenty, Whakatane offers visitors all that is good about the Bay of Plenty.

Here you can go whale watching, swimming with dolphins, deep sea fishing, visit the active volcanic White Island, mountain bike and hike.

Click here to find accommodation in Whakatane.

Day 15 Gisborne

The Gisborne region , located on the east coast, is a 3.5 hour drive.

Tolaga Bay pic courtesy Eastland Inc.

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 places to stay, 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 16 & 17 Napier

Today, your New Zealand itinerary takes you to the art deco town of Napier (3 hours drive).

Art Deco weekend in Napier

Napier is located on beautiful Hawke's Bay, and has a population of around 60,000. Perhaps best known for the 1931 earthquake which leveled the town center, Napier was rebuilt in the Art Deco style of the time, and now hosts an annual Art Deco weekend each February, which attracts thousands to the area.

Click on the link to see a full range of Napier hotels.

There is lots to see and do in Napier and surrounds. Gorging and mountain biking are popular, but

World class golf at Cape Kidnappers

visitors can also take scenic tours, visit local wineries (the famous Gimblett Gravels wine region), and enjoy Napier, hailed as a "Gourmet Food and Wine" destination.

The region has lots to offer visitors, and like most kiwi destinations, provides wonderful photo opportunities (make sure that you have a large capacity memory card on your camera).

And if you are a golfer, you won't be disappointed, as the region is home to the world famous Cape Kidnappers.

View a range of activities

You can search a range of activities, read customer reviews, and make bookings here.

Days 18, 19 & 20 Wellington

Today on your New Zealand itinerary you travel to New Zealand's capital, Wellington (4.5 hours drive).

Wellington's Copthorne Hotel, Oriental Bay

Where to stay in Wellington

We've taken some of the guess work out of your decision about where to stay in Wellington.

On our dedicated Wellington page, we list our suggestions for some of the best apartments, B & Bs, city and airport accommodation.

To see our suggestions, click here, then follow the "Accommodation" link on our Wellington page.

Or, if you would like to search through a huge range of Wellington accommodation, just click here.

Wellington, what a beautiful city

Set on the edge of an amazing harbor, and surrounded by rolling hills, Wellington is a beautiful, bustling city of around 200,000. Wellington is also the departure point for the Interislander ferry, linking Wellington with the South Island port of Picton.

Wellington's Te Papa Museum

Wellington's Best - here's our short list

Visit the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Wellington is home to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Located on the waterfront in downtown Wellington, Te Papa offers visitors a unique collection of arts and exhibitions which showcase New Zealand's proud heritage, culture, and growth. Te Papa is not to be missed.

Guided tours are relatively inexpensive. You can see a selection of tours of Te Papa here.

If museums are your thing, Wellington also offers the Colonial Cottage Museum, the New Zealand Cricket Museum, the Museum of Wellington, the Wellington Cable Car Museum, the Bank of New Zealand Museum, and the Bedplate Press Printing Museum. Something for everyone.

The iconic cable car

A great way to view Wellington is by cable car. The car travels from

Wellington's iconic cable car makes its way up Kelburn Hill. We thank Ian Trafford for the picture

Lambton Quay in the city center, to the top of Upland Road, where you will find the lookout, an observatory, and the Cable Car Museum. From the lookout you take in spectacular views of the city center and harbor. Cable cars depart every 10 minutes and you can take a car back down to the city, or walk down through gardens and the historic Bolton Street cemetery, emerging near the New Zealand Parliament.

Visit Zealandia

This urban eco sanctuary showcases New Zealand's unique flora and fauna. Located close to the city center, it's a great place to learn about New Zealand's natural history and wildlife, including the flightless kiwi. Comprising the indoor "Exhibition" and the outdoors "Sanctuary Valley", Zealandia is not to be missed.

Like Peter Jackson's movies?

Weta Cave workshop

If you are a fan of Peter Jackson's work, then a visit to Weta Cave Workshop is a must do. Here you can learn about many of those famous movies like the LOTR franchise, Spider-man 2, Avatar, and many more. And you'll love the movie props and scene re-creations.

There's a great range of tours available which you can learn more about here.

Visit the amazing vinyards of Martinborough

Some of New Zealand's best wines originate from the Martinborough area.

Located around 1 hour north of Wellington, there are heaps of wineries to visit, and of course our choice is always an organized tour (no point in risking your licence by driving yourself).

One of the best tours is this one which features four wineries, lunch, and even a train trip!

But wait there's more

Along with the usual New Zealand activities such as hikes, kayaking, mountain biking, and bungy jumping, Wellington also offers an endless supply of restaurants, bars, and cafes,  4wd tours, nature tours and much more.

You can view and book a range of Wellington activities HERE.

Day 21 Home

Unfortunately all good things must end, and today you fly home.

We hope that you enjoyed your North Island New Zealand itinerary, and that you return one day to see the rest of this wonderful country.

Make the most of your New Zealand itinerary, and find out all about the various New Zealand regions.


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