10 Days on the North Island of New Zealand

I've always said you could spend months on the little country of New Zealand and you would never get bored. Both times that I traveled in New Zealand, I met tons of cool backpackers spending months traveling just there, and many more doing a year work-holiday visa. From caves to volcanos to mountains to beaches, it's impossible to be unsatisfied.

In aggregate I've only spent 10 days on the North Island of NZ: once in April 2013 for five days alone after a 5-day trip in Queenstown with friends, and then again on a quick 5-day road trip with two of my best friends in January 2016. Below I outline what my friends and I road-tripped last January and then added two days to do what I did in and around Auckland in 2013. I have suggestions on what we might cut if we had less time (but all of it was awesome) and what we would have loved to do if we were blessed with more time.

10 Days on the North Island of New Zealand

(Note that this itinerary could be done in reverse) 

DAY ONE: Fly in to Wellington & Explore

I'm actually super stoked to see Wellington in a couple weeks, because tbh when we did the North Island trip last year, this was our Wellington experience:

We went hard in Australia the days prior (???) and took a red-eye flight to Wellington. We were running on minimal sleep, and it was really rainy in Auckland, and we were confused. Ross was driving and decided he couldn't even drive so we pulled over for a quick nap in our tiny car. Somehow all of us passed out for FOUR HOURS in the tiniest most awkward positions. I'm a terrible napper so I don't even know how this was possible. But yeah then we just left Wellington and that's all I can say about Wellington.

Apparently it's a cool place, so try not to be tired or hungover and check it out for the day and night. I'll have more to say on Wellington soon! ?

DAY TWO: Drive up the coast to Napier & Wine!

The next day, take a four hour drive up to Napier. It's the longest drive of the trip, but unbelievably beautiful! Napier is the Art Deco capital of the world, so you'll be able to check out some cool architecture. There's also some wineries nearby, we didn't get the chance to check them out but that would be the move. The beach is also really cool!

We just stopped by to check this out because I really wanted to see the buildings, but I'd recommend staying a night or two here so you can check out the food and drink scene in the Hawkes Bay area.

If you have time, add more days in Wellington or Napier depending on what you're into (Wellington for more NZ culture + city vibes, Napier for more holiday + wine + art vibes) because I'm a fan of traveling slow.

DAYS THREE + FOUR: Adventure in Taupo!

Taupo was probably my fave part of this trip. I would love to visit again and stay longer. It's the adventure capital of the North Island. Plenty of lake and mountain activities. You can bungee, raft, kayak, paddle board, cycle...anything. We chose to mountain bike and it was SO FUN (and challenging). You should try to rent your adventure gear in advance though. Many rental places close at 5pm, and lots of stuff is already taken so some planning helps here.

mountain biking in Jurassic Park today #activities #newzealand

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The town was also really fun to go out in. Really small, but great vibes by the water. Maybe it's because I'm a Northern Michigan gal but I loved the vibes and how you could just walk home after.

DAYS FIVE & SIX: Hit up the Waitomo caves, then off to Rotorua!

We had too much fun in Taupo and luckily I woke up (late) but just two hours before our glow worm cave in Waitomo, We barely made the tour (we had to somehow get on one an hour later) but this is a MUST-DO on the North Island of NZ! I've done the Waitomo Glow Worm Cave tour twice - once I did the 5-hour climbing tour (first of its kind in the world) and once I did the "blackwater rafting" tour. These caves are amazing and the tour is so worth it.

Little park in the tiny town of Waitomo. The outdoors all looks like fields from Lord of the Rings Little park in the tiny town of Waitomo. The outdoors all looks like fields from Lord of the Rings

After the tour, which takes about 4-5 hours, we drove up to Rotorua. It's a pretty chilled town but definitely a good amount of restaurants and people around. We just chilled by the lake with a bottle of wine (each) before grabbing food, and had a nice night chillin in Rotorua.

The next day, we checked out the geothermal pools which were pretty cool. We did two activities, one of which I recommend... We got tickets to walk around a geothermal park which was awesome. Then we went to Hells Gate which was more of a mud spa. It was nice but a bit expensive and the big natural park was cooler. Also the sulphur got in my eyes and really burned for about six hours after that, and it dyed our silver rings black (but luckily the colour came back in a couple days). But yes Rotorua was cool.

....Newco takes New Zealand? #killingit #feelingalive #wanderlust

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By the way we stayed at Rock Solid Backpackers here which has a climbing wall in it! Cool hostel.


Now it's time for NZ's 'big city.' It was fun to experience a lot of Kiwi culture here. I had a really special experience in this city in 2013 as this was my first time traveling alone. I made fast friends with a Dutch girl and we had a blast exploring the city together, even though we could barely speak the same language. I also went to a comedy show with some friends from the hostel which was a fun way to experience Kiwi culture.

Definitely visit the Auckland Art Gallery, it's amazing!  I also did a run around Mount Eden which provided awesome views of the city--hike there. The cool neighbourhood is Ponsonby - v bohemian, cool cafes and nightclubs. I'd def want to hang around here if I go back to Auckland! And of course exploring by the harbour is nice, and Auckland has a beautiful park.

Traveling alone = trying to do selfies. Also I look like a baby!  Traveling alone = trying to do selfies. Also I look like a baby! Top of Mount Eden!  Top of Mount Eden!

[Unfortunately my time there in 2016 was one of those legendary travel experiences where we came out with an amazing story but no so much cool experiences of the city ?? (might've gotten lost and slept in 2 hours another hostel and then maybe got kicked out of our airbnb in downpouring rain and spent our last night freezing on the floor in the airport idk).]

DAY EIGHT (+ NINE?!): Waiheke Island

Take a 30 minute ferry over to Waiheke Island for the day (or two). This is where a lot of Aucklanders commute from, and many more have holiday homes here. It is seriously stunning. I rented a bike and spent four hours biking around the island and had an absolute blast. It reminded me of Northern Michigan (my happy place) and I would love to go back there with family or friends.

Waiheke Island! Waiheke Island!

Insanely pretty...  Insanely pretty...

DAY TEN: Finish off what you need to do in Auckland and say BAI ?

If you have more time, spend more time doing activities around Napier or Taupo, do the Lord of the Rings Tour (I know...how did I not include that...) or take a couple days to road trip up the Bay of Islands. I haven't done that yet, but like everything, it is on my list.

I'd really love to do the Tongariro hike too.... there's so much.

The North Island of NZ has a special place in my heart. Can't wait to see what the South Island has in store for me in a couple weeks. Then it'll be interesting to compare the two! ?