North Island in One Week: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary
How to make the most of travelling the North Island in One Week.
We won’t go over the whole spiel of how travelling the North Island in one week isn’t enough time. We get it, that’s how much time you have. If you are prepared to do a lot of driving and have a super action-packed trip in New Zealand then you’re ready to do the North Island in one week!
The North Island in one week itinerary below covers most of the major highlights of the North Island, incorporating a bit of everything from mountain landscapes, coastal landscapes, adrenaline activities, natural wonders, wildlife, culture and the city. This one week in the North Island itinerary also offers you choice in different types of activities you can do each day, as well as different budget accommodation to consider. We’ll also give you some bonus power tips on renting a car for one week in New Zealand just because we’re nice like that.
Renting a car/campervan for one week in the North Island
Travelling for one week on the North Island and looking for the perfect road trip itinerary? Renting a car or campervan is going to be the best way to squeeze everything you want into one week on the North Island. This means no waiting around for buses and gives you the freedom to hit all the incredible North Island destinations listed below.
For a car or campervan rental in the North Island, consider the following:
- Choose a rental company with a low or no one-way fees. The itinerary below means you will pick up a rental vehicle in Auckland and drop it off in Wellington. Most car rental companies will charge a one way fee for this.
- Consider car relocation. See if there are any car relocation deals at your time of travel between Auckland and Wellington for as little as NZ$1 a day! Find out more in Car Relocation in New Zealand.
- Use a car rental company based at the Auckland Airport. And make sure the “premium location fee” is fair (less than NZ$30) and whether the rental company offers a free shuttle to their depot.
For a complete comparison of car rental companies, check out The Best Car Rental Companies in Auckland.
Day 1 – Auckland Airport to Hahei
Drive Time: 2h15mins
You’ve arrived at Auckland Airport! Once you have picked up your rental vehicle, it’s time to hit the road to Hahei in the Coromandel Peninsula! Why leave the city so soon? Well, we’re guessing you have come to New Zealand to see the natural beauty of the country, not the city life. So for the first day of your road trip, go check out some of the stunning coastal scenery and beaches of the North Island.
Things to do in Hahei
Depending on what time your flight came in, you have the option to do one or both of the following in Hahei:
- Cathedral Cove. Take the easy coastal walk (1h30min walking track) to a beach with white cliffs and giant archway to walk through. There are also options to visit the beach with activity operators by kayak or boat.
- Hot Water Beach. Go to Hot Water Beach at low tide to dig yourself a hot pool in the sand.
Accommodation in Hahei
Day 2 – Hahei to Waitomo (Via karangahake Gorge)
Drive Time: 3 hours
Your final destination today is Waitomo, famous for its glowworms and caving activities. Before you get there, don’t miss the Karangahake Gorge, halfway through the drive. There are a number of walking tracks in the area between 45 minutes to 4 hours going through a historic mining area taken back by the forest and the river. Walk through mining tunnels, through native forest, along mining relic and to magnificent waterfalls.
Things to Do in Waitomo
After the drive and walking at Karangahake Gorge, you will have time to do one of the short activities in Waitomo. For example:
- Do a walking tour of the Ruakuri Cave or the Waitomo Glowworm Caves
- Do the Ruakuri Bush Walk (45 minutes) at night to see glowworms
- For more inspiration, take a look at Waitomo – Guide for backpackers
Accommodation in Waitomo
day 3 – Waitomo to Rotorua
Drive Time: 1h50min
If you want to do one the caving activities in Waitomo, or didn’t get to do one of the Waitomo activities yesterday, this morning would be a great time to do so! Join one of the caving operators in Waitomo, throw on a sexy wetsuit and tube/abseil/climb your way through the Waitomo Caves! Once the adventure is over, it’s time to hit the road to Rotorua! Depending on what you prefer, there are things to do along the way to Rotorua, or you can save some time to do something awesome in Rotorua this evening. Here are your options…
Things to Do on the Road to Rotorua
- Stop by Otorohanga to see a kiwi bird in the kiwi house or quickly learn a bit of New Zealand history down the Ed Hillary Walkway situated in the centre of Otorohanga.
- See the Arapuni Swing Bridge, a huge suspension bridge crossing New Zealand’s longest river.
- Do the Te Waihou Walkway (1h30min or 3 hours walk) to the Putaruru Blue Spring to see some of the purest and clearest water flowing in a stream.
- Take a detour to Matamata to visit The Hobbiton Movie Set. This will add an extra 30 minutes to your drive time
Things to Do in Rotorua
- Relax in a natural geothermal hot pool. There are paid options, such as the Polynesian Spa, or go find some of the 5 Free Natural Hot Pools in Rotorua.
- See an evening cultural performance at one of the Maori attractions. We list most of the options in 10 Places to Experience Maori Culture in New Zealand.
Accommodation in Rotorua
Day 4 – Rotorua to taupo/TOngariro National Park
Drive Time: 1 hour to Taupo or 2h15min to National Park Village
Why the crazy drive time? Well, if you are into hiking and landscapes, then we suggest that you pass through the town of Taupo and base yourself in the Tongariro National Park so that tomorrow morning, you can tackle the Tongariro Alpine Crossing or another hike in the national park. However, we know long hikes are not for everyone, so another option is to stay in Taupo which has a huge variety of activities on offer. Find out more about what there is to do in either Taupo or Tongariro National Park in tomorrow’s section. Before then, you have a day in Rotorua to enjoy before hitting the road!
Things to Do in Rotorua
- Visit a geothermal park. Geysers, steaming lakes, bubbling mud, silica terraces and so much more can be seen in one of the many geothermal parks of Rotorua.
- Catch a Maori cultural performance (if you missed doing so yesterday).
- Do some adrenaline activities. Zorb/Ogo your way in a giant hamster ball down a hill, go luging from the top of the gondola, mountain bike in the Redwood Forest, jet boat or do a freefall experience at the Velocity Valley, and so much more!
- See native New Zealand wildlife at Wingspan or Rainbow Springs.
Accommodation in Taupo
- Taupo DeBretts
- Lake Taupo Top 10 Holiday Park
- All Seasons Kiwi Holiday Park
- Urban Retreat
- YHA Taupo
- Base Taupo
- Rainbow Lodge
- Silver Fern Lodge
- Haka Lodge
Accommodation in National Park Village
Day 5 – Taupo/TOngariro National Park
Drive Time: 0
Spend the whole day in Taupo or Tongariro National Park doing awesome activities. There’s no driving to do today other than to your chosen activity. Plus, you can stay in the same accommodation as last night.
Things to Do in Tongariro National Park
- Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is New Zealand’s most popular day hike taking you over the volcanoes of the central North Island. The 8-hour hike is one-way and requires some planning in terms of transport and keeping safe. Take a look at our Guide to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing to work out a plan.
- Ski or snowboard at Whakapapa Ski Field in winter.
- Choose from other hikes in Tongariro National Park by looking at 13 Walks Around National Park Village & Whakapapa Village.
Things to Do in Taupo
- Take a trip out on New Zealand’s largest lake, whether it’s fishing, kayaking, sailing, cruising or parasailing.
- Bungy jump over the Waikato River.
- Do a skydive.
- Go on a white water rafting trip on the Tongariro River. (Pick up available from Taupo).
- Walk along the Waikato River to a natural hot pool at Spa Park, then onto Huka Falls.
- Get more inspiration from Taupo – Guide for Backpackers.
Day 6 – Tongariro National Park to Wellington
Drive Time: 4 hours from National Park, 5 hours from Taupo
Your final destination today is the capital city of New Zealand! However, there’s plenty to do along the way to break up the 4-5-hour drive.
Things to do on the road to Wellington
- Stop by Ohakune for its walking and biking trails. Hire a bike and do the 2-hour Old Coach Road or hike in the Mangawhero Forest (1 hour).
- Visit the National Army Museum in Waiouru.
- Check out the quirky town of Bulls and spot all the bull-related puns of the town.
- Along the Kapiti Coast, stop by one of the beaches like Peka Peka Beach or Queen Elizabeth Park. Or take a tour to Kapiti Island to check out the native bird sanctuary.
Accommodation in Wellington
Day 7 – Wellington
Drive Time: 0
It’s your last day in New Zealand! New Zealand’s capital is a good place to end your time on the North Island not only because it has an international airport, because there are actually a lot of things to do here! Choose from the following…
Things to Do in Wellington
- Visit the Te Papa Museum to learn everything there is to know about New Zealand.
- Go to Zealandia to see native New Zealand wildlife.
- Do a Lord of the Rings tour.
- Tour the city sights of Wellington from the Waterfront to Cuba Street to the Botanic Gardens to Mt Victoria. Find out more in our Wellington City – Guide for Backpackers.
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