New Zealand has an almost overwhelming amount to offer its visitors, with lush forests, postcard-worthy views and diverse landscapes that definitely cause jaws to drop. Whether you have a couple of days, or longer, New Zealand is a go-to destination for travellers who enjoy exploring and sightseeing by car. If you’re wondering where to start, the North Island is an adventurer’s paradise, thanks to its active volcanoes, geothermal activity, and smattering of scenic stops. When you’re ready to hit the road, we’ve mapped out a self-drive itinerary that will see you discover four charming towns in four days across New Zealand’s North Island.
Day 1: Auckland
As the largest city of the North Island and the most populated city in New Zealand, it’s little surprise that there are plenty of things to see and do in Auckland. Plus, because it has even been rated as the third most liveable city in the world, it makes the perfect place to spend a few days before you set off on your North Island road trip.
Start your day at Cornwall Park, an oasis in the heart of the city and an ideal place to unwind, wander and take in a spectacular view of Auckland. Centered around one of the area’s most well-known volcanic cones, this expansive parkland has something for everyone. From weaving your way along the walking trails and paddocks, to experiencing an urban working farm complete with sheep and cows, a day out at Cornwall Park is sure to be one well spent.
Outside of the park in central Auckland, it’s time to explore the city’s mix of shopping, entertainment and eateries – so there will be no time to waste! Retail therapy opportunities range from local designers and international imports, to vintage finds and unique boutiques. If art is more your thing, stop by the Auckland Art Gallery and lose yourself in the inspiring works across the four-level award-winning building.
If you’re looking for activities for the family, the Auckland Sky Tower, the city’s tallest building, is something the whole family will love. On a clear day you’ll have a panoramic outlook across all of Auckland, thanks to the 192-metre-high observation deck. Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium is another family favourite, where you can walk through oceanarium tunnels and learn about turtle conservation. Those wanting a thrill can sign up for a shark dive or shark cage snorkel.
Day 2: Hobbiton and Waimarino
Day two is where the magic of New Zealand’s North Island really shines. Your first stop is in the quaint town of Hobbiton, located approximately 2 hours 20 minutes’ drive from Auckland. The name ‘Hobbiton’ might ring a bell, as it was a key filming location in The Lord of the Rings trilogies! If you’re a fan of The Hobbit and want to see a number of sites in one afternoon, stop by the Hobbiton Movie Set. You can take a guided tour around the movie set and explore the iconic Green Dragon Inn. Even travellers that aren’t fans of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings can still appreciate the undeniable good looks of this famous location.
From Hobbiton, it’s about 50 minutes’ drive to Waimarino, where you can admire mysterious caves that are home to groups of luminous glow worms. Kayaking tours are available to guide you through the calm waters at dusk, so you can witness this natural phenomenon. Tip: the glow worms are only visible at night and it gets quite chilly in the canyon, so remember to bring a jacket. Be sure to have booked nearby accommodation for once the kayaking tour ends; it has been a jam-packed day!
Day 3: Rotorua
On day three depart for Rotorua, a short one-hour drive from Waimarino. Start your morning with a walk around incredible Lake Tikitapu (Blue Lake), famous for its striking colour and pretty surrounding forestry.
After an active morning, log some relaxation time in the afternoon. Rotorua is known for its thermal springs, and you won’t need to travel far to find these pools – many are located within the town itself. These geothermal waters are praised for their healing properties, including the claimed ability to heal ailments such as arthritis. Rotorua is a wellness oasis and there are indulgent spa treatments available, including soaking in mineral-enriched mud baths or having weary muscles kneaded with traditional Maori massage. Next, head to Tamaki Maori Village, in an ancient Tawa forest, to immerse yourself in Maori culture and traditions. Stay the night and book in for the Evening Experience where you’ll be able to learn and perform the Haka.
Day 4: Taupo
Today begins with a scenic one-hour drive to Taupo, the final destination in your North Island Road Trip. You might like to explore the area around Lake Taupo, the largest lake by surface area in New Zealand and a tempting spot for a dip when the weather is warm. You might even be up for a paddle in winter if you can handle the cold water! You can also explore the Mine Bay Mauri rock carvings, which have become one of the North Island’s biggest tourist attractions. The carvings tower 14 metres above the deep water of Lake Taupo and are recognised as one of the most remarkable contemporary Maori artworks. The Mine Bay Mauri rock carvings are accessible by boat only, by taking a scenic cruise, sail boat or kayak from the Taupo Boat Harbour.
Other fun water activities on the lake include stand-up paddleboarding, sailing, water skiing and even windsurfing. Lake Taupo offers superb fishing for trout; keen anglers won’t want to miss the chance to cast their lines for some world-class fly fishing. Those seeking a thrilling activity in New Zealand’s North Island can book in for skydiving in Taupo.
To conclude a wonderful four days driving around New Zealand, it would be a shame not to sample the fare from some of the local craft beer and cider breweries. Quench your thirst with craft beer brewed using alpine volcanic water at Trout Brewery. If wine is more your thing, there are also some beautiful boutique vineyards in the southern bays near Turangi. The cooler climate and high altitude of this region help create distinctive varietals. What better way to end your four-day adventure than admiring a gorgeous vineyard with a glass of some of New Zealand’s finest in hand!