The North Island of New Zealand is filled with long sandy beaches, bubbling thermal springs, and endless lush nature! There are so many places to explore that are completely different from what you will find on the South Island. Each of our week-long road trip ideas are unique, highlighting the best places to visit on the North Island of NZ!
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North Island New Zealand Quick Tips
1. The best way to explore New Zealand is with a Jucy camper! We spent over six weeks driving around the North and South Islands in a van and loved every moment.
2. If you’re not renting a van you’ll still need a vehicle to get around. We use Discover Cars when traveling and enjoy having the freedom to go anywhere.
3. You will obviously need a vehicle, but consider a campervan instead of a car. There are so many freedom camping spots on the North Island of NZ to help save some money!
4. Every North Island New Zealand itinerary starts in Auckland as that is where the main international airport is located. Keep an eye out throughout this blog for more information and Auckland tips!
5. During our North Island road trip we used booking.com whenever we weren’t using our campervan. Check out our specific articles that we linked below for hotel recommendations in each location.
4 New Zealand North Island Itinerary Ideas
Discovering the Far North
Route: Auckland – Whangārei – Russell & Paihia – Cape Reinga – 90 Mile Beach – Piha Beach – Back to Auckland
Start & End: Auckland
Driving Distance: 916km/570 miles
Day 1: Auckland – Head up the Auckland Sky Tower for an epic view before walking the harbor and hitting happy hour with a view. Here you’ll quickly see why they call Auckland the “City of Sails.”
Day 2: Whangārei – The largest town in Northland and home to some beautiful beaches. Take a slow drive along the water heading towards Ocean Beach. Stop at the small bays for a swim along the way!
Day 3 & 4: Russell/Paihia – You need two nights to explore this area. No need to drive once you’ve checked in, as you can hop on the passenger ferry between Russell and Paihia. Also, a full day sailing adventure of the Bay of Islands is a must!
Day 5: Mangōnui – This small town is the perfect base to see the area. Take a drive out to the Karikari Peninsula, do some hiking, and hit the sandy beaches. Afterwards, eat at Mangonui Fish Shop for some of the best seafood in New Zealand.
Day 6: Cape Reinga & 90 Mile Beach – Wake up early and make the long drive to New Zealand’s most northern point. Visit Cape Reinga lighthouse and rent a boogie board to slide down the sand dunes. If you’re planning to camp you will be able to stay near Cape Reinga. However, if not you’ll have to do a day trip and backtrack to Mangōnui.
Day 7: Piha Beach – End your New Zealand North Island road trip at one of the most popular beaches in NZ! Piha is a massive black sand beach known for surfing and the famous Lion Rock. While here take a short hike to the stunning Kitekite Falls.
Geothermal Highway of the North Island
Route: Auckland – Hamilton – Waitomo Caves – Rotorua – Taupo – Napier
Start & End: Auckland to Napier
Driving Distance: 548 km/340 miles
Day 1: Auckland – Not a city person, or want to do something different? Consider hopping on the ferry for a day trip to the famous wine island! Waiheke is internationally known for its dozens of vineyards and gorgeous beaches. This makes it the perfect getaway for locals and travelers alike.
Day 2: Hamilton & Waitomo – Passing through on your way to Waitomo caves, stop into Hamilton and visit the beautiful gardens. Then continue onto the Waitomo Glowworm Caves where you will have a choice to walk, boat, or float through.
Day 3 & 4: Rotorua – Rotorua has everything from whitewater rafting and ziplining in the forest, to soaking in the award winning Polynesian Spa. Make a trip to one of the geothermal parks and head to the massive Redwood forest. At night go out for dinner on “Eat Street” which features a range of different restaurants.
Day 5 & 6: Taupo – Stroll along New Zealand’s largest lake, jump in the chilled water, and enjoy the town. In between all the fun in Taupo check out the street art scene, but save some energy! The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered one of the best day hikes in the world and it’s the best thing to do on your 2nd day. If that’s too wild for you there’s also a shorter hike up Mount Tauhara.
Day 7: Napier – This Art Deco town is surrounded by a gorgeous coastline and endless vineyards, including the oldest in New Zealand. Napier is bursting with life, cafes, and bars to hang out at. It’s a great way to close out this itinerary for the North Island of New Zealand.
Cruising the Pacific Coast Highway
Route: Auckland – Whitianga – Mount Maunganui – Ohope – Hicks Bay – Gisborne – Napier
Start & End: Auckland to Gisborne
Driving Distance: 1026 km/637 miles
Day 1: Whitianga – Pick up your rental car in Auckland and hit the road. On the way you can indulge yourself with oysters and seafood around the Coromandel Peninsula. Two highlights of the area are the Cathedral Cove hike and Hot Water Beach where you can actually dig your own hot tub!
Day 2 & 3: Mount Maunganui – This popular beach town is one of our favorites on the North Island of NZ. Hit the long sandy beach, hike Mount Maunganui for sunset, and happy hour hop through town.
Day 4: Ohope – Just outside the larger Whakatane, Ohope is all about the beach! Swim in the ocean and walk for hours on the white sand.
Day 5: Hicks Bay – The road from Ohope to Gisborne is one of New Zealand’s most unique drives. Hicks Bay is about the halfway point. Yet, you can stay in any of the small towns along the East Cape. If the driving is too much you can skip ahead by taking the inland route to Gisborne.
Day 6: Gisborne – Get up early in Gisborne! It’s the first place in New Zealand to see the sunrise each day. Spend your time exploring the beautiful beaches, the charming town center, and of course wine tasting. On your way to Napier consider stopping at the Morere Hot Springs.
Day 7: Napier – En route to Napier keep an eye out for local stands to try a fresh fruit ice cream. While in town you can explore the art scene or even take a full day wine tour. Napier is a super underrated city to see on your New Zealand North Island road trip.
Wild West Adventure
Start & End: Auckland to Wellington
Driving Distance: 773 km/480 miles
After Your New Zealand North Island Road Trip
Heading South Next? If you loved our North Island New Zealand itinerary make sure to check out some of our most popular posts on the South Island below. We cover everything from Queenstown to Mount Cook, and the unbelievable glacier lakes!
- 18 Fun Things to do in Queenstown On Your First Visit
- 7 Tips for Visiting Milford Sound & How to Pick the Best Cruise
- Hooker Valley Track: Guide to the Fun & Easy Mt Cook Walkway
- Ben Lomond Track: Why It’s the Best Hike From Queenstown NZ
- 5 Experiences You Can’t Miss in Lake Tekapo New Zealand
- Akaroa New Zealand: How to Visit the Fun French Seaside Village
→ Explore all our South Island New Zealand Travel Tips & Guides
Have any questions about this article or want to share your own favorite places on the North Island of NZ? Let us know in comments below!
Brigitte and Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
New Zealand Travel Planning
Flights: It’s easy to find cheap flight deals using Skyscanner and Kayak. That’s how we got flights from Auckland to Queenstown for $40 USD, and New Zealand to Fiji for less than $150!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without being covered. We’ve been using SafetyWing for insurance the last few years and they are always there when we need them.
Packing Lists: Find all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists. Including our electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials!
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