New Zealand’s North Island is a melting pot of authentic Maori culture, delectable coastal cuisine and breathtaking nature, set in a unique landscape known for its geothermal activity. Often lesser-explored compared to the more popular South Island, North Island’s diversity demands more time and attention than what it typically gets.
Our 7-day New Zealand North Island itinerary was meant to do exactly that! With an entire week in hand, we wanted to see as much of the island as we could. Despite being home to two of the biggest cities in the country, Auckland and Wellington, which are easily connected via flights, we wanted to see all that’s in between. We wanted to get into the heart of the North Island, eat all the fresh local food, stop by fruit farms instead of just hopping around the urban centres.
As you can very well imagine, an itinerary like this is best covered on a self-drive road trip. How else would we allow ourselves to stop every time we spotted a cute little sheep by the road? For the trip we planned, we chose to rent a vehicle from Avis New Zealand to be our companion on the 7-day itinerary, spanning over 800 Km that we’ll soon outline for you. You will also see how having a rental car gave us the perfect opportunity to explore the island at our own pace, while giving us the freedom to plan our itinerary just how we wanted.
New Zealand North Island Itinerary 7 Days
Summary of places to visit in New Zealand north island road trip
Day 1 – Arrive in Auckland
Day 2 – Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton
Day 3 – Day trip from Rotorua to Wai O Tapu, Taupo, Huka Falls
Day 4 – Explore Rotorua
Day 5 – Drive to the Coromandel Peninsula via Bay of Plenty
Day 6 – Explore Coromandel and drive back to Auckland
Day 7 – Explore Auckland
New Zealand North Island road trip – Day 1
Welcome to Auckland! This is the day when you arrive in the city, and if you’re landing here straight from another country, you’re most likely to be jetlagged. Depending on what time you land, it’s best to spend the day resting and catching up on sleep. Don’t worry about missing out on seeing Auckland because you’ll have time to come back and spend a full day in Auckland at the end of this itinerary. If you want, you can also pick up your rental vehicle from Avis’s airport pickup location today itself. Alternatively, you can do that next morning before officially kickstarting your New Zealand North Island road trip.
Where to stay: Given that you’re most likely to be sleeping this day off to get rid of jetlag, it would make sense to find a place to stay near Auckland airport itself instead of heading off to the city centre. Avis also has a car pick up location at the airport so staying close by would also give you the option to pick up your car on day 2.
New Zealand North Island road trip – Day 2
Now that you’re (hopefully!) well-rested, it’s time to hit the road. If you didn’t pick up your Avis vehicle yesterday, do that today and get on your way to our first destination in the north island – Rotorua.
Known for spectacular geothermal activities, Rotorua’s biggest attractions are its bubbling natural geysers and geothermally-heated pools. With a distinct smell of Sulphur wafting through the town, Rotorua’s rugged landscape lends the city an otherworldly feeling.
But before you reach the city, take a small detour and stop by at the world-famous Hobbiton Movie Set that featured in the Hobbiton movie series and The Lord of the Rings. Let your imagination run wild while you’re enjoying the 2-hour guided tour, and recreate your favourite moments from the movie in a unique setting.
The total distance from Auckland to Rotorua via Hobbiton will be approximately 240 Km, which you can expect to cover in about 4-5 hours excluding the time needed to visit Hobbiton. Once done with the tour, keep driving towards Rotorua, past the most gorgeous meadows and farms. You’ll know you’re getting close to Rotorua, when you start smelling Sulphur in the air. It does feel unpleasant at the beginning, but give it some time and you’ll quickly get used to it. Moreover, it is absolutely safe to breathe in the Hydrogen Sulphide gas that gives Rotorua its distinctive smell.
After you’ve checked in to your accommodation for the next 3 nights, you should still have some time in the late afternoon and evening, ideal for enjoying a visit to the Polynesian Spa that’s known for its naturally heated mineral pools. Book yourself in for the indulgent Deluxe Lake Spa which will give you access to 5 different hot pools (1 acidic & 4 alkaline). From our first-hand experience at the Polynesian Spa, we can assure you that this will be far from just another spa day or a simple dip in the pool.
Steaming hot pools at varying temperatures between 36 and 41 degrees centigrade built in a tropical setting, look out towards Lake Rotorua. Enriched in minerals and geothermally heated, soaking in these pools is said to have wonderful health benefits like reducing body aches, improving the skin texture and relaxing the muscles. I have to admit we were a little skeptical about reaping any benefits out of our hour-long soak. But we were pleasantly surprised by the therapeutic effect this had on us. For starters, we were thoroughly relaxed by the end of the session, ready to hit the sack immediately after. To top that, we also realised that a lot of the muscle cramps we were experiencing from a strenuous hike we did earlier, had considerably reduced! Having said that, whether you see any noticeable benefit or not, the experience is unlike anything else!
If you are able to pull yourself out of the warm comfort of the hot pools and still have some time and energy left to do something other than sleep, head to Rotorua’s Redwood forest for a nighttime tree-walk experience. The Redwoods Nightlights experience allows you to take a 40-minute walk on suspended bridges and platforms, giving you a magical glimpse into the century-old forest. This walk can also be done during the day so if you’re tired, head back to your hotel from the Polynesian Spa and hit the sack.
Where to stay: We stayed at Holiday Inn Rotorua during our trip, which turned out to be a great affordable choice of accommodation. Not only was our room very well-furnished and comfortable, but the central location also offered easy access to most of the places of interest we wanted to visit in Rotorua. If you end up staying here, ask for a room on the higher floors facing the stunning Te Puia geyser. It’s an unmatched experience as you wake up to the view of a fuming geyser in the distance amidst lush forests.
If you want to explore more accommodation options, check out these affordable hotels in Rotorua.
New Zealand North Island road trip – Day 3
Rotorua makes for a great base to head further down on the North Island. On the third day of your New Zealand north island self-drive itinerary, take your Avis rental vehicle for a 30-minute drive from Rotorua to Wai-O-Tapu, a geothermal park known for the most incredible volcanic formations. This park stands out amongst several others in the region for being home to vibrant, eclectic and colourful geothermal formations entirely designed by the forces of nature.
Take a self-guided stroll through the massive park on a predesignated route that takes you along bubbling hot mud pools, geysers, and hot springs in colours you wouldn’t imagine! Watch the Lady Knox Geyser erupt at 10:15 am and then make your way into the park to see the famous Champagne pool and the Artist’s Palette that display hues of orange, green and yellow along with continuous emission of carbon dioxide from the surface of the pools. If there’s any way to describe the experience, we would say surreal!
Keep around 2-3 hours for the entire experience at Wai-O-Tapu, after which drive southwards to Huka Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in New Zealand that originates from the Waikato River and drains into Lake Taupo. The drive from Wai-O-Tapu to Huka Falls takes about an hour and covers a distance of almost 50 Kms. Park your car at the main Huka Falls car parking area and take a short 10-minute walk to the lookout point to watch the magnificent waterfalls up close.
After completing the scenic walk, a quick 5-minute drive will take you to New Zealand’s largest lake, Taupo. Drive along the lake and stop at any of the lookout spots to enjoy the view. The Lake Terrace drive adjoining the lake also has several cafes and restaurants that offer beautiful views of the lake while you dine on fresh local food or enjoy a beer. In the evening, return to your hotel in Rotorua, keeping in mind that you’ll need around 1.5 hours for the drive back.
New Zealand North Island itinerary – Day 4
Your fourth day in the New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary will also be your final day in Rotorua. Keep this day to explore in and around the town because there is really no other place like this! Start your day with a visit to Hell’s Gate, a place as unique as its name suggests.
An active geothermal landscape coupled with an exciting mud spa, Hell’s Gate is one place we highly recommend you visit in Rotorua. Located only 16 Km outside the town centre, Hell’s Gate will transport you to a world of bubbling natural mud pools that not only look fascinating but also have a long, rich history of being used by Maori warriors to heal battle wounds. Book one of the experiences at Hell’s Gate to get an opportunity to walk through the ancient land, home to native forest and geothermal activities and top it off with a therapeutic dip in their natural mud pool.
Depending on which experience you book, expect to spend about 3-4 hours at Hell’s Gate. In the second half of the day, follow this up with a visit to the Tamaki Maori Village. Known for upholding and showcasing the indigenous Maori culture, the Tamaki Maori Village experience is one of a kind where you get a taste of the Maori culture and way of life. Listen to stories of Maori legends, match steps with the Haka dancers and interact with Maori community members before ending the evening with a sumptuous Maori-style Hangi meal.
New Zealand North Island itinerary – Day 5
Check out of your hotel in the morning and gear up for a drive out of Rotorua towards the northern part of the beautiful Bay of Plenty. Rotorua itself falls within the region, but as you can imagine, there’s a lot more to be seen here.
Just an hour’s drive from Rotorua, Mount Maunganui is an extinct volcano lying at the edge of an incredible white sand beach. This coastal stretch has often been said to be one of the very best in New Zealand and we can see why. Pristine blue water of the Pacific Ocean splashing against the rugged volcano, while the spotless beach lined with palm trees stretches as far as the eyes can see. The Marine Parade adjoining the beach is dotted with cafes and restaurants where you can stop by for a meal while enjoying the picture postcard-like surroundings. If you’re up for it, you could even attempt hiking Mt. Maunganui for the stunning view from the top!
From the Bay of Plenty, time to drive to another region of the north island known for its immense biodiversity and natural bounty – the Coromandel Peninsula. A slightly longer drive of 2.5-3 hours, we promise it’ll be worth the effort because of how beautiful the drive itself is. Winding roads through the thick forest of the Coromandel takes you to the coastal region known for some very interesting beaches. But for today, it’s best to just enjoy the drive, get to your accommodation for the night and start exploring the next morning.
Where to stay: The Coromandel Peninsula has great stay options scattered throughout the region which you’ll find here. We personally lean towards the stays closer to the coast from where you can easily drive to some of the places we have lined up for the next day. Look for stays in Whitianga, Cathedral Cove, Hot Water Beach, or Hahei for easy access to the coast and gorgeous surroundings – truly the best of both worlds.
New Zealand North Island itinerary – Day 6
Start your day early so you can pack in some beach time before heading out of the Coromandel Peninsula. In the morning, head to Hahei Beach opening up to the deep blue waters of the South Pacific Ocean. Spend some time at the beach if you like and then take the walk/hike to reach Cathedral Cove. It’s a fairly easy trail that leads to the iconic spot created by rocky cliffs on the shore. If you start from Hahei beach, the walk is estimated to take about 1.5 hours one way – a good way to pack in some physical activity in your itinerary.
Take your time to enjoy the sun and sand before finally heading back to Auckland in the evening. The distance from Cathedral Cove back to the city is roughly 177 Km that can be covered in 2.5-3 hours.
Where to stay: We decided to take up a cozy little serviced apartment at VR Queen Street, located in the heart of the city, well connected to the rest of Auckland. Our apartment was spacious, with a huge bed, a fully equipped kitchenette, and large glass windows looking out into the city. But what we loved most about the hotel was its friendly and helpful staff who made sure we’re comfortable and provided us with whatever we needed (think, wine glasses for a wee little in-room date night 🙂 ). Alternatively, if you’re looking for a hostel or a fully-serviced hotel, here are some more great accommodation options in the city.
New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary – Day 7
It’s a brand new day in the City of Sails, Auckland, and it’s also your final day on the north island. Today, give the driving a break and explore on foot. Auckland’s CBD is perfect for a lazy brunch at one of the cafes near the harbour to kickstart your day.
Post brunch, hop on a cruise from the Viaduct Harbour and sail away into the Hauraki Gulf for an incredible Whale and Dolphin watching safari. Spend 4-5 hours sailing in the Marine Park rich in biodiversity and get an opportunity to spot some of the most beautiful and unique marine life. Whales, Dolphins, Seals, Sharks and various species of birds – watching these rare creatures live in action is a rewarding experience!
Once you are back on land, take a quick drive to Mt. Eden, a volcano sitting right in the middle of the city. From the car park area, it’s an easy and short climb up to the volcano summit from where you can watch the sunset and the entire city of Auckland lighting up. The summit of Mt. Eden also happens to be the highest point in the city and is one of our most favourite places to visit in Auckland, especially at dusk.
That brings us to the end of this 7-day north island road trip itinerary with Avis. It may not seem like much on paper, but it’s a whirlwind of a journey that’ll take you from the geothermal land of Rotorua to the largest lake of New Zealand, and all the way back to the biggest city in the country, but not before touching the eastern coast to catch a glimpse of the Pacific.
Things to remember when renting a car in New Zealand
Now that you have all the details of what to see in New Zealand north island in 7 days, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of planning the logistics for this trip. If you ask us, renting a car and self-driving is the best way to really explore and experience the North Island in 7 days. It gives you the flexibility and ease of charting your own route, on your own time. If you’ve been thinking of planning a similar road trip, here are a few important things to consider, and some of the reasons we think you should consider Avis New Zealand as your car rental brand of choice.
Let’s be honest, this is one of the first factors most travellers consider when planning any aspect of travel. We too, are cost-conscious and always try to fit in all expenses within our budget as best as we can, without compromising on the quality of our experiences as far as possible. The same ground rule applied when we were searching for a suitable car rental company to opt for in New Zealand.
After comparing some of the big brands, Avis New Zealand quickly became our choice because of the wide variety of rental options in varying price ranges they offered and their relatively affordable rates. For a 7-day hire, their rates start from as low as NZD 46 per day for hatchbacks (excluding insurance), which may seem like a lot, but Avis offered us the perfect balance between the cost and benefit. Our car, a Toyota Fortuner, was in top-notch condition and was a dream to drive on New Zealand’s roads. To top that, the entire experience of booking, picking up and returning the car, which we will talk more about soon, was so relaxed and seamless, we know we’re definitely doing it all over again when we travel!
Pickup and drop locations
Avis cars are available for pickup and drop at multiple locations throughout New Zealand. In the north island itself, you have the option to start or end your journey anywhere from Auckland, Wellington, Napier, Hamilton, among many other locations. For our New Zealand north island self-drive itinerary, we picked up and dropped off our car at the Avis outlet in Auckland Airport. But you have the complete freedom to tweak your itinerary as per your need and pick up or drop off your car at any location that suits you.
When renting a car in New Zealand, keep in mind that your rental cost does not include the cost of insurance coverage, which you have to pay an additional amount for. Typically, when renting with companies like Avis, you’ll get an option to purchase insurance to make sure you don’t incur unwarranted expenses in case there is an emergency involving your vehicle. For a 7-day car hire, the insurance charge starts at about NZD 218, where the final amount is determined by which car you choose. Needless to say, insurance cost is lower for hatchbacks than what you would pay for an SUV. This may seem like an unnecessary additional expense if you don’t plan for it, but when you’re on the road in a new country, it’s better to be safe than sorry! Especially when vehicle damage charges can go up to NZD 4000 depending on the extent of damage, you may as well cover your back with a smaller insurance payment.
Don’t have an international driving license? Worry not! New Zealand allows foreign nationals to drive in the country without a local license for up to 12 months provided you meet these criteria. If you’re visiting from India like us, you do not necessarily need to have an international permit. As long as your Indian driving license is valid and in English, you are free to drive and enjoy the stunning roads of this country. Moreover, New Zealand follows right-hand drive which you’ll be familiar with if you’re visiting from countries like UK, India, Australia, etc. You really don’t have an excuse to not do a self-drive road trip in New Zealand anymore, do you?
Depending on what vehicle you hire, you may have to check what kind of fuel it needs – petrol or diesel. During our one-week road trip in New Zealand’s north island, we found petrol prices to be hovering around NZD 1.9 per litre. The prices differ a little in every city and among various fuel brands, so this is a rough average to help you budget. The itinerary we have shared above covered around 800 Km and the fuel economy of our car was averaging around 12 Km per litre. So we would not have spent more than NZD 125 on fuel for the entire trip.
There are plenty of things to do and places to see in New Zealand’s north island if you have a vehicle to help you get around. We hope our itinerary helps you plan a similar road trip with Avis and experiencing what New Zealand is best known for – its wild and beautiful outdoors!