• Claire

Epic NEW ZEALAND Road Trip Itinerary (Part 1) | Top Places to See in the NORTH Island

Updated: Nov 5, 2018

Back in 2015, I embarked on my very first overseas adventure - a 3-week trip to New Zealand. Beginning in Auckland on the North Island, we spent a week making our way south through Raglan, Rotorua and Tongariro NP to Wellington.

This blog post is part 1 of my New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary (you can read part 2 on the South Island here).

New Zealand really was the perfect place for a first overseas trip - it's close to home both culturally and distance-wise, everyone speaks English and it's packed-full of incredible scenery and adventure activities.

I went to New Zealand with my best friend Rhi - it was the beginning of many exciting trips together. As it was out first time overseas we opted to join a group tour, G Adventures' Best of New Zealand trip (the trip itinerary has changed slightly since I went). Our tour guide 'Ninja' was so much fun - we met so many people and made so many great memories that this trip really set the impetus for future travels.

We road-tripped through the North and South Islands beginning in Auckland and finishing up in Wellington - this post is for the North Island specifically but you can read about my South Island itinerary in a second blog post here!

I made a YouTube montage video of my entire New Zealand trip, you can watch it here!

We set off eagerly from Brisbane airport direct to Auckland. Flights from Australia to NZ can be pretty cheap - I know that flights departing the Gold Coast airport to Queenstown/Christchurch are often on sale!

Leaving on our first overseas trip!


Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand (although it's not the capital - Wellington is) and is a great starting point for your adventures in the North Island. You won't need more than a couple days here as the real gems of the North Island are out of the city.

The iconic Sky Tower has views over Viaduct Harbour and beautiful Waiheke Island is only a 30min ferry ride from the city which makes for a great day trip

Many backpackers also head north from Auckland to the Bay of Islands - this region is known for its stunning beaches and water activities.

View from the Auckland Sky Tower

Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island


Raglan is a lively surf town two hours south of Auckland which actually reminds me a lot of Tofino in B.C. The small beachside town in known for its surfing and black-sand beaches.

While in Raglan make sure to try a surfing lesson, visit black-sand Ngarunui Beach or hop on a kayaking excursion - I opted for the kayaking as I'm horrible at surfing!


Kayaking in Raglan


The region of Waitomo is home to an extensive network of underground caves filled with glow worms!

You can do a walk through the caves, do a boat tour, go abseiling or go black water rafting - all offer you opportunities to get a great look at the glow worms.

Waitomo Caves


Rotorua is known at the adventure capital of the North Island and is also famous for its geothermal activity. The town is located on a geothermal field of the Taupo Volcanic Zone and has resulted in Rotorua having bubbling mud pools, geysers and quite pungent sulphur-rich air.

Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland is an active geothermal area where you're able to see brightly coloured geothermal pools, sulphur mud baths and watch geysers explode. In Rotorua you are also able to visit a living Maori village and participate in a hangi feast (a traditional Maori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit).

Also Rotorua is the only place in New Zealand where you can go zorbing!

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

A Maori Cultural Centre

Zorbing in Rotorua

Zorbing in Rotorua


The town of Taupo sits on the edge of Australasia's largest lake and is located around an hour south of Rotorua.

Popular attractions in the area include Huka Falls, outdoor sports like skydiving and fishing, and hot springs.

View of Lake Taupo

Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park is home to three active volcanos: Tongariro, Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom from The Lord of the Rings) and Ruapehu (a popular ski resort).

While in the National Park we were supposed to complete the incredible Tongariro Crossing but the weather was completely horrible on that day so our trek was cancelled - as luck would have it, the weather the morning we left was absolutely perfect!

We stayed at a hostel with an incredible view of Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom).

Tongariro NP

Tongariro NP - View of 'Mt Doom' from the Lord of the Rings

Mt Doom' from the Lord of the Rings

Mt Ruapehu

Mt Ruapehu


Wellington is New Zealand's capital city and was our last stop on the North Island.

Popular things to do in Wellington include the Museum of New Zealand, Wellington Botanic Gardens and Wellington Zoo.

We pretty much just passed through Wellington (as we were coming back at the end of our trip) and hopped straight on the Interislander Cook Straight Ferry. The ferry winds through the Marlborough Sound wine-growing region on approach to the North Island which is really beautiful.

Hopping on the ferry to the South Island

Cruising through the Marlborough Sound

Read part 2 - Epic NEW ZEALAND Road Trip Itinerary | Top Places to See in the SOUTH Island!

You can watch the YouTube video from my New Zealand trip here!