Best of the North Island: a 14-day New Zealand itinerary
Next time you cross the ditch, venture north for an epic two-week trip around Te Ika-a-Māui, also known as New Zealand’s North Island.
From sleek cities to quaint villages, thundering waterfalls to desert-like landscapes, fertile wine country to subtropical coastlines, New Zealand’s North Island/Te Ika-a-Māui is a bounty of diverse landscapes, made by nature and man. Over two weeks, from north to south, explore the best of this incredible island, including taking thrilling jet boat rides, exploring centuries-old townships and soaking in thermal pools.
Days one and two: Auckland/Tāmaki Makaurau
Made up of many distinctive neighbourhoods, New Zealand’s most populous city is an energetic mix of urban life and natural beauty. There’s Ponsonby, known for its eclectic cuisines and charming architecture; heritage Britomart, a once-neglected industrial area turned hip and happening neighbourhood; brand-spanking-new Commercial Bay, a shopping and dining precinct located at Waitematā Harbour; and sparkling Viaduct Harbour, where a relaxing waterside lunch comes with multi-million-dollar views.
Brave the walk around the edge of Sky Tower’s 192-metre-high platform or sign up for SkyJump, where you’ll plunge 53 floors towards the city streets.
Head to Silo Park at Wynyard Quarter, which hosts regular art exhibitions, festivals, outdoor cinema screenings, live entertainment, food trucks and more.
Venture 30 kilometres southwest for adventurous pursuits at Waitakere Ranges, home to more than 250 kilometres of hiking trails, waterfalls and black-sand beaches.
Accommodation tip: SO/ Auckland
Days three and four: Kaitaia and Bay of Islands
New Zealand’s northernmost town, Kaitaia, is a city rich in Māori and Dalmatian culture. Learn about this heritage at the Te Ahu Museum and head to Cape Reinga – a sacred Māori site – to see where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea collide. Around a 90-minute drive east of Kaitaia, the subtropical Bay of Islands comprises 144 islands, a dramatic coastline, secluded beaches and coves, and is home to dolphins, penguins, whales and more.
Ninety Mile Beach
When in Kaitaia, venture to Ninety Mile Beach for its spectacular sunsets, fabulous four-wheel-driving, and coastal adventures, from enormous sand dunes to epic surf breaks.
Join an island-hopper cruise to explore the Bay of Islands. Departing from Paihia, this day trip includes an island stopover, snorkelling and wildlife spotting. You can even try your hand at sailing.
Accommodation tip: The Duke of Marlborough, Bay of Islands
Days five and six: Hamilton-Waikato and Waitomo Caves
Located on the banks of the Waikato River, Hamilton/Kirikiriroa is a multicultural city known for its gardens and walking tracks, and is also home to the country’s only commercial tea plantation, Zealong Tea Estate. A little under an hour south lies the renowned Waitomo Caves, home to three unique caves and an underground river system, which you can explore by boat.
Don’t leave town without visiting Hamilton Gardens, a 58-hectare botanical masterpiece featuring garden designs from across the globe.
A highlight of Waitomo Glowworm Caves is the Glowworm Grotto. The glowworm is unique to New Zealand and these caves are home to thousands of them illuminating this subterranean world.
Accommodation tip: Novotel Hamilton Tainui Hotel
Days seven and eight: Rotorua
The unique region of Rotorua is known for its colourful geothermal landscape of hot pools, bubbling mud pools and turbulent geysers. With 18 lakes, three rivers, towering forests and mountains, it’s also an adventurer’s playground, popular for jet boating, kayaking, biking and hiking.
Raise your pulse rate with a jetboat ride through Tutukau Gorge and the narrow gaps of The Squeeze, then relax in thermal waters where waterfalls cascade into a pool.
Stroll among the towering 118-year-old redwoods at the Redwoods Treewalk.
Explore the mystical landscape of Wai-O-Tapu, a geothermal park sculpted over thousands of years from volcanic activity, made up of geysers and mud pools.
Accommodation tip: Pullman Rotorua Hotel
Days nine and ten: Taupo
Nature lovers will feel at home in Taupo, an area comprising a diverse landscape of ski fields and alpine deserts, ancient forests and thundering waterfalls, hot springs and volcanic mountains, and – at its heart – Lake Taupo, the great inland sea of New Zealand. The charming town has an array of boutique shopping and a bustling dining scene, as well as an uber-cool collection of street art hidden in its laneways.
Craters of the Moon
The otherworldly Craters of the Moon is a geothermal landscape that can be explored via a series of boardwalks.
Taupo’s thermal pools
Soak in one of Taupo’s many thermal pools, known by local Māori for their healing properties.
Accommodation tip: Whakaipo Lodge, Taupo
Day 10 and 11: Napier/Ahuriri and Hawke’s Bay
Known as the Art Deco capital of New Zealand for its concentration of stripped classical, Spanish mission and Art Deco architecture, the charming town of Napier is an excellent base to explore the Hawke’s Bay wine region, best known for merlot cabernet blends, syrah and chardonnay. The coastal town’s palm-lined streets boast a vibrant shopping and art scene featuring several boutique galleries and a striking seawall mural, with a captivating backdrop of mountains stretching to the sea.
Te Mata Park
Make time for a visit to Te Mata Park, home to The Sleeping Giant (aka Te Mata Peak). A number of walking and biking tracks lead to the mountain’s summit, with views overlooking the bay from Mahia to Cape Kidnappers.
Food and wine trail
Foodies are in for a treat: there are more than 200 vineyards in the region, as well as craft breweries and artisan producers. Download a food and wine map to plan your gourmand explorations.
Accommodation tip: Art Deco Masonic Hotel, Napier
Day 12: Whanganui
The historic city of Whanganui is nestled between its namesake river and the Tasman Sea. Arguably, it’s one of the North Island’s most overlooked destinations, not least for its idyllic streetscape made up of beautifully preserved historic buildings dating back to Victorian times, including the 115-year-old opera house. Also check out the exotic Paloma Gardens, an underground elevator, and an 1899-built paddle steamer that’s still in operation today.
Take a cruise on the Waimarie, New Zealand’s only coal-fired paddle steamer, and enjoy the scenery of the Whanganui River.
Royal Whanganui Opera House
Catch a show at the historic Royal Whanganui Opera House, the country’s last Victorian theatre.
Accommodation tip: Browns Boutique B&B, Whanganui
Days 13 and 14: Wellington/Te Whanganui-a-Tara and Martinborough
Boasting a cosmopolitan vibe and renowned for its friendliness, the country’s capital may be small but it sure packs a punch. Wellington has an eclectic cultural scene, from cool and quirky Cuba Street, which is known for its vintage stores, bustling night markets, and colourful LGBTQI+ community, to its historic landmarks and museums, including the country’s national museum, Te Papa. Just over an hour east of the city lies the quaint village of Martinborough, which oozes colonial charm and has more than 20 boutique vineyards and several olive groves.
Wellington Cable Car
Little and big travellers alike will enjoy a ride on the historic Wellington Cable Car, the country’s only funicular railway, which opened in 1902. At the top, Wellington Botanic Garden is 25 hectares of vibrant botanic displays with beautiful views over the city.
Visit Wellington’s oldest food market, Harbourside Market. Held every Sunday at the waterfront, you can sample and buy goodies from a number of local producers, from manuka honey to fairtrade coffee to organic peanut butter.
Hire a bike or rickshaw
Hire a bike (or a rickshaw if you like) to cycle around the quiet country roads of Martinborough, visiting its charming boutique vineyards.
Accommodation tip: Intercontinental Wellington
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