At opposite ends of the North Island, New Zealand’s two largest cities are separated by gorgeous beaches, geothermal features, volcanic plateaus, and wildlife reserves. This route between Auckland and Wellington covers some North Island highlights.

Starting in Auckland, loop southeast and up to the Coromandel Peninsula. The Coromandel Ranges run through the centre of the peninsula, and around the coastline are bays, beaches, and marine reserves.

You may want to stop for a day or two in Tauranga, a dolphin-watching hot spot before continuing onto Rotorua

This hub of Maori culture set on a large lake is dotted with steaming vents, spurting geysers, and bubbling mud pools. An even larger lake, Taupo, is an hour’s drive south-west. In Taupo, spend time boating or kayaking on the lake.

Spend three days hiking and exploring volcanoes in Tongariro National Park then continue south, stopping for a day on the Kapiti Coast and Kapiti Island before spending your last couple of days in the proudly artsy capital, Wellington.

Key information

Destinations New Zealand
Activity Beach, Family, Adventure, Hiking & Trekking, Mountain Biking, Water Sports, Kayaking, Canoeing, Active, Walking, Road Trips, Swimming, Nature & Wildlife, Birdwatching, National Parks, Culture, Cities, Museums & Galleries, Indigenous Tourism
Physical Level Easy
Season Season January - December

Suggested itinerary

Auckland

Day 1

Forget the city’s high-rise centre; the beauty of Auckland is the scenery surrounding it. From surf beaches to the islands of Hauraki Gulf, volcanic peaks to fertile farmland, it’s no surprise that the greater Auckland region features high in lists of the world’s most liveable places. This is the perfect introduction to New Zealand.

Explore the beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula

Explore the beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula

Day 2–3 in Coromandel Peninsula

Visible across the Hauraki Gulf from Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula has some of the most famous beaches in the country. Head to secluded Cathedral Cove for a picnic and swim, sea kayak around the coast or visit Hot Water Beach to dig out your own hot pool.

The centre of the peninsula is covered in forested hills, thick rainforest with plenty of opportunity for adventure such as canyoning at the 300m high Sleeping God Canyon. The Pinnacles Walk in the Coromandel Forest Park is a highlight, and can be done as a one-day or overnight hike. The summit of the Pinnacles is at 758m and has great views of the forest and peninsula. Some parts are very steep.

Rotorua

Day 4

An eggy scent hangs over sulphuric Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island, which is home to spectacular geothermal springs, bubbling mud pools, geysers, and colourful geothermal terraces.

These natural features can be seen at various parks and open areas throughout Rotorua, but for a quieter experience, visit one outside the city. Orakei Korako, between Rotorua and Taupo, is a bit of a detour and requires a short boat ride to get across to the thermal terraces. If you’re driving a self-contained camper van, you’re allowed to park here overnight.

However, it’s not just the landscapes that attract visitors – 34% of Rotorua’s population is Maori, and cultural performances and banquets are worth seeing.

Lake Taupo

Day 5–6

Vast Lake Taupo is as big as Singapore and was created 2,000 years ago from a volcanic eruption so huge it would have been seen from China.

Today, visitors come for the magnificent Huka Falls, Maori rock carvings and watersports. Lake Taupo is also an excellent base for exploring nearby Tongariro National Park, including the Tongariro Alpine Crossing day hike and skiing at Whakapapa.

Hike in Tongariro National Park

Hike in Tongariro National Park

Day 7–8 in Tongariro National Park

New Zealand’s oldest national park is also a UNESCO World Heritage area, noted for both its cultural and natural significance.

With three active volcanoes — Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu — the high plateau of the Tongariro National Park offers challenging hikes. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing day hike is very popular, but the longer (3-4 day) Tongariro Northern Circuit is an alternative for experienced trekkers. It’s best to go with a guide, as conditions can change rapidly in the alpine landscape.

Kapiti Coast and Kapiti Island

Kapiti Coast and Kapiti Island

Day 9 in Kapiti

Off the coast of the Kapiti Coast is Kapiti Island, a wildlife reserve.

Guided tours ferry visitors over to the island from Paraparaumu Beach, where many varieties of native coastal and forest birds live, such as shags, gulls, tuis, kaka, and kereru. The view from the top of the 518m peak is worth the hike up.

Wellington

Day 10–11

Creative Wellington has a claim to be New Zealand’s most cultural city. From art galleries to theatre, craft beer to coffee, Wellington is a compact city packing a powerful punch. If you’re still looking for outdoor activities, try mountain biking or sea-water kayaking, or take a walk on the Makara Peak track for views across the west coast beach.

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