Your ultimate five-day itinerary across the North Island
We all know there’s no shortage of things to see and do across New Zealand’s picturesque North Island.
But with so many options to choose from, here we have devised an idyllic route to kick-start your own holiday plans.
So buckle up, this is your ultimate five-day North Island itinerary, starting from Poets Corner Lodge in Waihi.
Day 1: Cathedral Cove and Whitianga
Setting off from Poets Corner Lodge, take the wonderfully windy and postcard-worthy drive to the divine Cathedral Cove.
However you can’t get all the way by car. Follow the signs to Hahei Beach, where you can catch a water taxi over to the cove – a return taxi will cost you about $25. Alternatively, it’s a spectacular hike, taking in vast views all the way up the Coromandel Coast.
Once you’ve got your fix of sun, sand and swimming, there are several little towns nearby with great lunchtime gems. For instance in Whitianga there is a string of little boutiques and restaurants, including our favourite Harbor View Café.
Once you’ve wound your way back to Poets Corner Lodge, finish the day with a sumptuous dinner at one of Waihi’s best restaurants, the Bistro at Falls Retreat.
Think stunning natural surrounds, a low-key atmosphere and plate-licking dishes, including the famed panna cotta dessert.
Day 2: Visit the home of the Hobbits
Unlike most fictitious settings, you can visit the otherworldly set of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world-famous The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Dubbed ‘Middle Earth’ in the novels and films, it’s known as ‘Hobbiton’ or ‘The Shire’ here, a one-and-a-half hour drive from Poets Corner Lodge.
A thrilling experience for Lord of The Rings fans of all ages (yes, this isn’t just for the kids); you can jump on board a tour with up to 20 others.
If you’ve seen any of Sir Peter Jackson’s epic hobbit-centric films, you’ll soon appreciate that this is the real deal – the actual movie set where all the scenes of The Shire were shot, perfectly preserved.
Being an actual village, expect to see some 40 round-doored Hobbit holes, each with lush gardens, including where the infamous Bilbo Baggins resided.
Afterwards, return to Waihi for an afternoon of fun at Waihi Beach – a nine-kilometre stretch of fine white sand, likened to the beaches of Maine in the US, sprinkled with sand dollars.
Day 3: Wonders of the Waihi Region
Spending the day closer to home in the Waihi region, kick the day off with a visit to the nearby Karangahake Gorge. Remember to pack a torch!
On the way there, stop off to pay the pretty little Owharoa Falls a visit. It’s worth the photo opp’ if anything.
Once at the gorge, look out for signs to the ‘Windows Walk’. A relatively easy one-hour hike it passes through the relics of the Talisman and Crown mining operations, as well as mine shafts that you can walk through featuring “windows” blasted in them, with spectacular views of the deep gorge.
Next stop is the nearby Woodstock Underground Pump House. This is where your torch comes in handy – it is dark but keep going in to the gates until there is no more then turn off your torch and wait for the resident glowworms to illuminate. It’s an impressive spectacle that the region is famed for.
Post hike, make your way to Waihi’s famous 300-metre deep gold mine pit. Then just up the hill is Martha mine which is also worth a visit – still being mined today, it boasts some interesting relics of the old mining era too.
Finally, if you haven’t had your fill of hiking, it’s an absolutely stunning hike to the beautiful beach at Orokawa Bay. Only accessible by foot, the hike takes about 30 minutes, rewarding you with views across the forest as well as the coastline.
Alternatively, you can spend the remainder of the afternoon trawling Waihi’s local shops (special mention must be made of Koru and Dillimores).
For dinner, experience another local hidden gem – Waitete Orchard Restaurant Café and Ice, where the lamb rump is especially delicious.
Day 4: The west side of Coromandel Peninsula
Begin the day with a visit to Coromandel town and its bay of green and blue hues, dotted with islands and capes.
An unlikely first stop however is the Driving Creek Railway – you’ll need to make a reservation though at the town’s Information and Visitor’s Centre.
The experience takes you along little railroad while detailing the fascinating story of Barry Brickell – the creator of the railway. The journey culminates at the Eye-Full Tower, allowing panoramic views across the Coromandel harbor.
Coromandel’s other major appeal is its thriving art community, so there are many craft shops and galleries to trawl through.
After lunch at the Pepper Tree (yes, it has a giant landmark pepper tree out the front), take a leisurely drive to Kuaotunu Bay where you can spend the night.
Make sure you make a booking in advance at Kuaotunu Bay Lodge – a luxury bed and breakfast on par with Poets Corner in terms of comfort and service.
Here you can visit the little-known Otama Beach, which is so beautiful you’ll soon understand why locals tend to keep this one a secret.
Then at night, join the astronomy program that is run each clear evening from an observatory just down the road from Kuaotunu Bay Lodge.
Day 5: The Rotorua region
The Rotorua region, a one-and-a-half hour drive south of Poets Corner Lodge, is packed with uniquely New Zealand experiences for travellers.
For instance must-visit landmarks include the thermal springs at the Maori site of Te Puia, as well as New Zealand’s premier Māori cultural centre with gushing waters, steaming vents, boiling mud pools and spectacular geysers.
However interesting, be aware of the smell of sulphur in the area – part and parcel of the geo-thermal activity.
On the way back to Waihi, stop in at the cute little Katikati village and check out some of its local shops.
Alternatively, also on the way is Tauranga where you can swim with dolphins during the summer months. Dolphin swims begin in early November and ensure memorable experience for the entire family.
Then wrap up your North Island experience with dinner in Waihi Beach at either The Porch or Waihi Beach Hotel’s ‘Eatery’ – expect hearty but healthy dishes in a laidback atmosphere.
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