It’s hard to believe that my wife and I have been in New Zealand for less than 10 days. During the past week, we bought a van, filled it with camping gear, and drove nearly the entire length of New Zealand’s North Island.
We’ve seen stunning landscapes, rolling green hills, amazing surf, and boiling mud pits. It’s truly incredible how much natural beauty is packed into such a small country. If you’re wanting to plan an ideal North Island roadtrip, or if you just want to see some beautiful scenery and live vicariously through us, read on.
Also, check out the video at the bottom if you want to see all the stunning landscapes.
The beauty of this itinerary (and of New Zealand’s small size) is that you don’t have to spend much time in the car. We typically only drove about an hour and a half between each destination.
Day 1 – Auckland
Auckland is a vibrant city built around a beautiful harbor. They call it the “City of Sails” for a reason. While you’re here, make sure you get down to the waterfront and take a short ferry to one of the islands. We traveled to the cute island town of Davenport, and didn’t regret it one bit.
Day 2 – Raglan
Even if you’ve never seen Endless Summer and your Instagram feed isn’t filled with pictures of perfect waves like mine is, Raglan (New Zealand’s surf mecca) is a must-see on any North Island roadtrip. With it’s healthy cafes, bountiful coffee shops, and gorgeous location, it’s New Zealand’s quintessential beach town.
Side bonus: the beautiful Bridal Veil falls is just a short drive from Raglan, so make sure you swing by for some beautiful waterfall pictures. If you’re keen on taking pictures, try to go in the late afternoon because that’s when the light is best.
Day 3 – Rotorua
Rotorua is quite possibly the strangest place I’ve ever been. Is it beautiful? Yes. Does it stink (like sulphur)? Yes. Is it worth visiting? YES!
I’ve been to active geothermal areas before (like Yellowstone), but Rotorua is different. I don’t know of any other town that is built right on top of a massive geothermal area. In Rotorua, you can walk down the sidewalk and see steam hissing up through cracks in the street. In the city park, there are children’s jungle gyms mere feet from boiling mud pits.
Side bonus: There are tons of mineral pools and hot springs in this area. Waiotapu is a really cool one, complete with geysers. Also, basically every holiday park (commercial campground) in this area has its own geothermal mineral pool, so you can live the spa life on a budget.
Day 4 – Taupo
Taupo is a rad little town situated on the largest lake (by surface area) in New Zealand. Lake Taupo is 616 square kilometers and is 186 meters deep at the deepest point. On a clear day you can see stunning volcanic peaks across the lake, and you’ll be hard pressed not to fall in love with this little town that feels like a ski village.
Side bonus: There’s a really cool free walk on the East side of Lake Taupo to New Zealand’s deepest natural fresh water spring, Hamurana Springs.
Side bonus #2: You should also check out “Craters of the Moon” if you want to see where Sir Peter Jackson filmed Gollum’s Lair in The Lord of the Rings.
Day 5 – Napier
Napier is a beach town in Hawke’s Bay on New Zealand’s East Coast. This is the land of wineries and art deco. Plus, there is tons of free camping (called freedom camping)! We were lucky enough to get a spot right on the water. Really amazing to wake up to that sunrise.
Side bonus: On your way to Napier from Taupo, be sure to check out Waipunga Falls! It’s really easy to miss the sign for the turnout, but it’s definitely worth a quick stop to see this breathtaking beauty.
Day 6 – Wairarapa
Wairarapa is an often overlooked region on the south part of New Zealand’s North Island. However, this charming region is home to gorgeous vineyards, beautiful scenery, alpaca farms, and the extremely photogenic Castle Point.
Side bonus: You can say hi to us, because we’re house sitting in the Wairarapa for the next 6 weeks.
Day 7 – Wellington
New Zealand’s capital is a bustling port city that is hard not to love. It’s got great food, a lively atmosphere, and tons of waterfront to enjoy. Plus, you can ride the Wellington cable car, hike Mount Kaukau, and visit the beehive (NZ’s parliament building).
That’s all I’ve got, but hopefully that gives you a starting guide if you’re looking for the perfect North Island roadtrip.
Also, check out the video below for all the stunning landscapes narrated by Melissa’s quirky commentary.
New Zealand Roadtrip