Heading to New Zealand but not sure what you should see or how much time you should spend in each place, on each island? We’ll show you how we saw New Zealand’s North Island in 6 days with our awesome friends Jarden and Tasha from A Global Stroll. This itinerary is great if you are a DIY-er, as we are! We hate packaged tours for the most part because they always include waking up at deathly hours, doing things you don’t like, and not allowing enough time at the places you DO like!
DAY 0 – Arriving in Auckland
I’m counting this as Day 0 because we landed in Auckland in the evening and by the time we got out of the airport, picked up our rental car, and checked in to our Airbnb, the day was already over. I do highly recommend you to arrive in Auckland as it is a great start and end point in your journey. Most international airlines only fly in and out of Auckland anyway, so this should be no problem for you.
DAY 1 – HOBBITON MOVIE TOURS & WAITOMO GLOW WORM CAVES
From Auckland, it took us 2 hours to drive to Matamata which is where the Hobbiton Movie Tours set is. We left Auckland at 11am after breakfast and arrived in the farmland region of Matamata shortly after 1pm. This is a must-see on any New Zealand visit, even if you’ve never watched Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. It’s too magical to miss! When most people hear “New Zealand” the first thing that pops into their heads is this movie and this place. The tour is 90 minutes and you’ll wish it was longer. As a huge LOTR and Hobbit fan, I was super emotional upon stepping foot off the bus onto the movie set – I always imagined this being a real place, and now it was! Random fact: Did you know New Zealand appointed a Minister of Rings? In 2001 during the filming of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy in New Zealand, Pete Hodgson was given the title Minister of the Rings: responsible for investigating methods of capitalising on the boom in tourism to New Zealand that followed the release of the films. I’d have loved his job!
Waitomo Caves is another 1 hour drive from Hobbiton. Sadly the photo below wasn’t taken by us. As travel photographers and vloggers, we wanted to capture the beauty of of the caves, however they won’t show up in your photos (note: you can still see them 100% with your own eyes, they just can’t be captured on a camera). This is because most cameras are not able to pick up anything in extremely low light conditions. The boat they take you on inside the cave is in constant motion so you won’t be able to do a long-exposure shot to capture the worms doing their glow magic. But even still, 90% of the tours departing Auckland package Hobbiton and Glow Worm caves together, so its a good indication that its totally worth seeing and you’re better off not passing on it just because you won’t get this nice shot to show your friends.
Day 1 Overnight in: Cambridge
25 min drive from Hobbiton Movie Set / 45 min drive from Waitomo Glow Caves
DAY 2 – WHAKARERAWERA & REDWOOD FOREST
Whakarewarewa is a living Maori village. The Maori are the native Polynesian people of New Zealand. Names of streets and places in New Zealand for the most part have kept the original Maori name and it is great fun to visit one of the villages that are still intact and thriving. We went on a 1 hour tour with a Maori guide who taught us a few Maori words, the history of the tribe and her ancestors, and all the great things about this village. Walking through her home was like stepping into a time capsule – most of the things her ancestors and the Maori used in the past before the land of Aeotera (New Zealand in Maori) got conquered are still in use today. Thermal pools have ovens placed above them so they can cook their food without the use of a microwave or oven. The steam from the thermal pools actually keeps food moist, meaning the chicken or pig you throw in there will have the meat sliding right off! Cool hey?! They also still use thermal baths which are carved out rectangular “tubs” in the ground that receives water from the pools. The sulphuric water is said to relax muscles, cure ailments and disease, and leave your skin soft and smooth. I’m agreeing with experience, as I took a long dip in a sulphur spring when we went to Peru. Plus this irrigation and water supply is free! They don’t need to build showers and pay for government water. Hurray for off-the-grid! The tour ended with a half hour Maori dance performance where you get to watch them perform songs of love and war dances. There is also a food option where you can have a traditional Maori feast after all this, but we skipped on that.
Look at how crystal clear and aqua that water is! But don’t be fooled, you can’t jump in this one. The surface temperature is 100 degrees Celsius (boiling point) and gets exponentially hotter each feet deeper.
Getting pumped before battle and intimidating the opponent!
Redwood Forest is also named Whakarewarewa Forest and is just right outside the Maori village. Here you can rent bikes and go on all sorts of trails: kids trails, family trails, and even challenging multi-hour long ones! There are over 150km of bike trails here so there is tons to see. We went on a short 1 hour hike. Here’s one of the cool shots Tasha got with the tall trees!
Day 2 Overnight in: Rotorua
DAY 3 – WAI-O-TAPU THERMAL WONDERLAND & ZORB
Day 3 is in Rotorua as well, so you’ll catch a break from driving too much today. Our first stop was Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland where you can see the famous Champagne Pool and Devil’s Bath. The park has over 20 thermal and mud pools to see. If you want to see all of them it takes about 2 hours to walk around the track. If you want to see just the popular ones it will take about 45 minutes of walking, which is the one we did. This was a fun and relaxing activity as we took our time walking and snapping photos. And yes, the Devil’s Bath really IS that green in real life!
The Waiotapu wonderland is home to a number of bubbling geothermal sights. But the most eye catching one of all is this neon green radioactive waste looking water known as The Devil’s Bath. Just be prepared to smell a whole lot of sulfur when you are there! It STINKS!!! #waiotapu #discover_newzealand
ZORB! This is one of the other things you CANNOT miss when visiting New Zealand! New Zealand is famous for zorbing [(globe-riding, sphereing, orbing) is the recreation or sport of rolling downhill inside an orb, generally made of transparent plastic]. This is because they have lots of farmland and hills, so its perfect to roll down when in a giant ball! We went for 2 rides each, one as a couple and one by ourselves. If I could describe it in one word it would be “hilarious”. There is just so much going on when you are inside that ball, like trying not to lose your pants, trying to get a grasp of your position in the orb, and trying to BREATHE! We opted for the H20 one on all our rides where they add water in your ball. The issue is when the ball is rolling, the water is constantly spraying in your face and up your nose! And as for me, I kept laughing and screaming so it also went IN my mouth! Its a good thing they don’t fill it with too much water or I would have drowned, haha! No matter your age I think you will have a great time rolling down a hill in a giant see-through plastic ball.
Day 3 Overnight in: Rotorua
DAY 4 – TE PUKE & MOUNT MAUNGANUI
As we are halfway through our North Island trip, we start heading back up north. Maunganui is the highlight of the day, a beautiful picturesque beach town. The postcard city for Bay of Plenty is a 1 hour drive from Rotorua. On the way however I was dying to see The Giant Kiwi. Whats the Giant Kiwi you ask? Well it’s actually called Kiwi 360 and it is a kiwi vineyard. They host informative tours and take you around the kiwi farm, let you taste different types of kiwis, and teach you about the planting, growing, and budding of the kiwi fruit. It has recently changed ownership so they have halted tour operations until they relocate. But, that didn’t bother me. I wanted to see the giant kiwi. It’s a HUGE KIWI for Christ’s sake, in the LAND OF KIWIS!!! My friend had no idea why I was so excited about the damn kiwi. Well, let me tell you how things go down in New Zealand:
The people of New Zealand refer to themselves as Kiwis.
They call their money the Kiwi dollar.
They are home to the Kiwi bird.
Their national fruit is the Kiwi fruit.
SO HERE IS A GIANT KIWI IN THE LAND OF ALL THINGS KIWIS! It just made sense. We stopped here for 5 minutes to snap silly pictures and were off again.
Arriving at Maunganui a short bit later, we parked our car right by the beautiful beach and started our hike up Mount Maunganui. You know that postcard city I was referring to earlier? Well you can snap that exact image from the top of Mount Maunganui. It’s a 45 minute hike but it was scorching hot that day, I wore way too many clothes [read: leggings and a shirt instead of shorts and a tank] and we stopped to vlog and take photos. So I think we spent 2 hours here. The view from up top was gorgeous! The pictures on Google images don’t do it justice. The higher we climbed, the hotter it got up until we reached the break of the clouds. Yeah, we touched the clouds. It became cool and breezy and the condensation from our sweat was replaced by condensation from the clouds. This was not a challenging hike at all – we saw people of all ages and fitness levels on this mountain. It is so beautiful up here (I repeat myself a lot) and I highly recommend a climb up Mt. Maunganui. You get panoramic views from each side of the mountain. We saw adjacent islands, beach coastlines, the city of Tauranga, and even an island far off into the distance. I’m going to link a bunch of images now because I just love this place so much.
Day 4 Overnight in: Tauranga
DAY 5 – AUCKLAND CITY
Making our way back to Auckland from Tauranga took 3 hours. It took 2 hours to reach Auckland but driving in that city was crazy. It took us an hour to get into our AirBnb. Unfortunately it was non-stop raining this day so we walked around a bit in the city center, got some delicious ice cream, and headed back to shelter. At night we went out to snap some night photos of the city. After all that driving you’ve done for the past 5 days, its a good idea to rest up a bit and take a relaxing stroll in the downtown core. If you don’t like the idea of wasting a day not doing some adventurous activity, you can take a ferry from Auckland to Waiheke island. You can go on hikes, bike rides, and wine tasting tours on this island.
Day 5 Overnight in: Auckland
DAY 6 – MOUNT EDEN & ONE TREE HILL
For our 6th and final day in New Zealand’s North Island, we went on two easy-level hikes. The first of which is Mount Eden where lies a giant volcanic crater. Its a nice spot to snap some photos with the city skyline.
Our last stop for the North Island tour was One Tree Hill. No, its not the same place as the CW TV show. Its quite literal, the name represents a hill which has only one tree on it. If you’re reading this and you’re anything like us, you will have a good laugh the entire time here. Every single turn we took we thought we finally found the “one tree on the hill”, only to find a hundred more trees on the same hill. After an hour and a half of walking, we think we found it. Or at least we made it look like we found it. Tung took the photo below cropping out all the other trees, LOL!
This place shares the same name as one of the greatest TV shows ever on the CW. After googling a bunch of images of this place we came to the conclusion that there’s one tree on this hill, but when we hiked up there were more trees surrounding the area! We were dissapointed to say the least…??? LOL #discover_newzealand #onetreehill
So there you have it, 6 days on New Zealand’s North Island and 1,005 kms driven later, you have seen the best and coolest places! We didn’t feel rushed at all during this trip. We took our time and woke up early enough to do 2 activities each day. You don’t need to spend $995 to see the North Island – that’s just ridiculous. That was the going price that I saw on many tour packages before deciding that renting our own car and taking turns driving was the best option. You can go at your own speed, add in or take out whichever activity/tour you like, but this is a great starter itinerary. If I could go back, I wouldn’t have done it any other way or changed a thing. In logistical planning, I made sure we never backtracked on any of the routes. As you can see below, we did a full circle! Excellent! Of course if you have more days to see New Zealand, then you can go more south adding Mount Tongariro and Wellington among other really popular destinations into your DIY tour. Bay of Islands is a very hot spot as well but its a 3 hour drive north from Auckland so you would need at least 2 days. Unless you’re a fan of driving 6 hours in one day of course [ew].
I hope this itinerary has helped you decide better how to allocate your time to see the best of New Zealand’s North Island. It is very possible in a short amount of time, like 6 days. Just rent a car, get driving, and do-it-yourself! Let me know if you followed this itinerary, what you loved, and what we should add next time we visit!