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The Ultimate New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary - North Island

Updated: Mar 28

In this travel guide for an awesome New Zealand road trip itinerary, we will provide you with everything you need to know to plan an unforgettable road trip in the most beautiful place on Earth.


This piece focuses on all the best road trip stops on the North Island, where we spent one month in late 2023. Look out for our next article which is an awesome New Zealand road trip itinerary for one month on the South Island!


I think 2 months is the perfect amount of time to road trip around New Zealand - but if you have less time you can cherry-pick from this travel guide the stops that are most exciting to you.


Scenery in New Zealand
You can expect gorgeous scenery on your one-month New Zealand North Island road trip!


 


CONTENTS




 


About Travel to New Zealand


This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you make a purchase through this website, at no extra cost to you. I only link to products and services that I use and love.


AOTOREA


Aotorea is the Māori name for New Zealand - and its literal meaning is ''Land of the long white cloud.'' Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand and their culture is an integral part of society.


There are over 100 iwi (tribes) and all of them believe in the importance of the connection between humanity, the land, and the natural world. With this in mind, your main responsibility as a road-tripping tourist in NZ is to respect the environment and as much as possible 'leave no trace'.



MONEY


The currency in New Zealand is New Zealand Dollars or NZD - and at the time of writing the current exchange rate is $2.1 NZD = £1 GBP.


Most places in New Zealand accept credit/debit cards, but we found it handy to carry some cash which we needed at DOC Campsites. Contactless payments are known as 'PayWave' here - and anything over $200 requires you to enter your PIN. (PayWave is not available everywhere, so don’t get caught out if you rely on your phone to make payments.)


Some pay machines will ask you to select either Cheque, Savings or Credit - which essentially prompts you to choose which account you would like to withdraw money from. If you do not have these types of accounts it does not matter as it will default to your current.



VISAS


As a UK Citizen you get 6 months to explore New Zealand as a tourist - you'll just need to apply for a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA). It is $17 on the free app or $23 online here.


If you are 18 to 35 years old, you also have the option to obtain a Working Holiday Visa - that allows you to live and work in NZ for up to 36 months – which is plenty of time to fit in/fund an awesome New Zealand road trip itinerary!



RENTING A VEHICLE IN NZ


For a 2-month New Zealand road trip (1 month North Island, then 1 month South Island) in all honesty, it probably works out cheaper to buy a camper van in Auckland and sell it in Queenstown.


However, we chose to rent, as we didn’t have spare time before and after our itinerary to go through the buying/selling process.


We did not want to go for the cheapest option, instead, we had some specs to meet after learning from previous long-term road trips:


  • A fixed bed – This means you do not need to make up/break down your bed every day, and you also have a comfortable spot for the few in-between chilling times.


  • Space to cook inside – Ideal for avoiding spring showers and those pesky NZ sand flies!



We used Quirky Campers – the home of handmade camper vans in NZ. The price was just under $11,000 NZD (£5K) for 2 months, including EVERYTHING apart from fuel. (Things like full insurance, utensils/omnia oven, camping chairs, bedding, outdoor shower, hammock, hot water, camping toilet, self-contained certification and diesel road user charges).

+Fuel for the entire 2 months was $2200 (£1k).


You can drive in New Zealand on a UK driving licence for up to 12 months (FYI, you cannot use your driving license as ID for things like buying alcohol – it must be your passport).


Campervan green field

Inside a campervan for an NZ road trip
We were really happy with our cute van from Quirky Campers

 

Not sure what to pack for your trip to New Zealand? Check out the I Dream of Mangoes article:


 


When to do a New Zealand Road Trip


We chose to avoid the peak tourist season in New Zealand, which is their summer: December – February. We also wanted to avoid winter, as many outdoor activities are closed off due to bad weather (except skiing of course).


We chose to plan our New Zealand road trip for springtime, which is the shoulder season of October and November – and we were really happy with this decision.


Perks of visiting New Zealand in shoulder/spring:


  • Generally, we had no issues with overcrowding, and we managed to find free camping spots and often had places/tours to ourselves.


  • The weather was mostly warm and pleasant, and driving conditions were easy.



Cons of visiting New Zealand in shoulder/spring:


  • Some attractions were not open for the season yet.


  • A couple of our planned stops had to be postponed or cancelled due to dodgy weather.



 


An Awesome New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary – North Island



Three must-have apps for your New Zealand Road Trip



Book Me NZ – This is New Zealand's No. 1 booking engine, which offers discounts on attractions, sometimes of up to 70%! We used this ALL THE TIME. Before you book an activity in New Zealand, make sure to check if it is on BookMe first!


CamperMate - CamperMate is Australia and New Zealand's most popular caravan and camping trip app, it gives you details on almost every campsite in the country, what facilities they have, and whether it's a free campsite or paid.


Rankers Camping NZ – This is a very similar campsite finding app to CamperMate, and it is worth having both as they don't always show the same options.



 


AUCKLAND – 2 Days


Auckland is the natural starting point for a New Zealand Road Trip itinerary for the North Island. While it is not the most interesting city in New Zealand, there is still plenty to do and it is an ideal place to get your things in order and collect your vehicle.



Staying in Auckland


There are a lot of accommodation options in Auckland if you need somewhere to rest your head before collecting your van! I normally put my trust in booking.com. - where dorm prices start at $20NZD per night.


After picking our van up early evening we spent our first night at Long Bay Camp/Recreation Ground - the price was NZ$17 per pitch, per night (booked online).


(Like most campsites we used in NZ – we found this on CamperMate where you can find more details about the facilities).



Getting around Auckland


We collected our van the day we landed, and we found the city pretty easy to navigate (it helps we drive on the same side). Otherwise, Uber is available and there are fairly decent public transport links.


You can use the Auckland Transport Journey Planner to navigate the city with ease!



Things to Do in Auckland


Our first stop in Auckland was MegaLand - A 345-meter-long inflatable course that pops up in different locations across NZ, and as it was its last day in Auckland, we grabbed the chance straight off the plane!


It was a right laugh, but there were more kids than we were expecting (yuk) - especially as it was advertised as the ‘biggest adult inflatable course'.


If you're not in a rush to get on the road, why not spend the day on Waiheke Island – a beautiful island 40 minutes by ferry from Auckland, filled with wineries with tasting rooms and cellar doors?


You can explore by car or if you'd like to indulge in some vino head over on foot and join the hop-on/hop-off bus on Waiheke. You can check ferry times and prices on the Fullers Ferry website.


Either on your way up from Auckland or back down be sure to take a pit stop at Eutopia Café off Highway One in Kaiwaka – a one-of-a-kind quirky Art café.



Wine tasting Waiheke
Wine tasting in Waiheke - a super fun activity in New Zealand's North Island

 


NORTHLAND – 7 Days


After flash-visiting Auckland, we spent a day organising the van before heading up to Northland. Our first quick stop was Whangarei Waterfall – 2 hours from Auckland and the ideal place to stretch your legs with trekking loops ranging from 10 minutes to 1 hour. On a hot day, you can even jump in for a swim!



THE BEST ROAD TRIP STOPS IN NORTHLAND


Kowharewa Bay


STAY: A free spot in Kowharewa Bay found on CamperMate.


DO: Scuba-dive the Poor Knights Islands with Dive Tutukaka.


The Poor Knights Islands are home to some of the best diving and snorkelling sites in the world. The 'Long Cave Dive' will go down as one of the best diving experiences of my life!



Bay of Islands


It is definitely worth spending a few days in the Bay of Islands, it is a beautiful part of New Zealand and it was one of our favourite stops on our North Island road trip!


STAY: With no wild campsites in the most popular place in the Bay of Islands: Paihia, the next best thing is a freedom camping spot at the Kawakaka Public Library OR camp at Otehai Bay.


DO:

  • Visit the historic town of Russell via ferry, enjoy the cute cafes, and hike up to Tapeka Point for some amazing views!


  • Book a boat tour to Motaurohia Island, Cape Brett Lighthouse, Motukokkako Island and Otehai Bay. The tour guides are brilliant and give a lot of insight into the first interactions between Māori and Europeans.


  • Make the 8-hour trek to Cape Brett Lighthouse with an overnight stay in the Lighthouse keeper's hut.




  • Waitangi Mountain Bike Park. You can choose between E-bikes and manual, but whichever you choose - be sure not to miss our favourite of the 46 tracks: The Magic Carpet.


Karikari Peninsula and 90 Mile Beach


On your way to the Karikari Peninsula make sure you stop at Rainbow Falls in Kerikeri which has three viewing platforms and is a great way to break up driving.


STAY: Lions Park in Manganui - a free camping spot a short walk from the ‘World Famous Fish Shop’ OR Tokerau Beach (not found online).


DO:

  • Matei Bay - with a little clambering, you'll find a jaw-dropping secluded cove. Thank me later!


  • Coco-cola Lake (Lake Rotopokaka) - This reddish-brown freshwater lake has healing properties according to Māori people, so make sure you have a swim.


  • 90 Mile Beach (Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē) - Surf, swim, sandboard, sunbathe, and walk.



Cape Reinga


Now to the tip of northern New Zealand! While technically the northernmost point of the North Island is Surville Cliffs - this is part of the North Cape Scientific Reserve and therefore inaccessible to the public.


However just 3km further south lies Cape Reinga, which is the more famous ‘North’ of the North Island. Make sure you stock up on fuel and food before heading too far up, fuel was very expensive in the one fuel station in the region and there aren’t a lot of shops.



STAY: There aren’t any freedom camping sites in Cape Reinga, but a local Kiwi recommended Tapotupotu Bay - a low-cost Department of Conservation (DOC) site.


DO:

  • A section of the Te Paki Coastal Track - A 4-hour return hike departing from this campsite to Cape Reinga Lighthouse OR drive to Cape Reinga Lighthouse and join for the last 10 minutes of the walk. Be sure to keep an eye out for whales scratching themselves on the rocks, and keep track of the tide! (Pathways can disappear with high tide).


  • The full Te Paki Coastal Track – A 48km, 4–5-day tramp from Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) to Cape Reinga to Te Paki Stream on the West coast.


  • Kapowairua - A pure white sandy beach with beautiful shell patches.


  • Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes – Sandboarding! This is a super-fun activity but weather dependent and boards can be rented at the car park.



The walk from Tapotupotu Bay
The walk from Tapotupotu Bay to Cape Reinga lighthouse


Ngawha Springs and Waipoua Forest


Your awesome New Zealand road trip itinerary for the North Island now takes you further South, where you're heading to less 'rural’ areas and will have many more options for fuel and food.


STAY: Te Corner in Ohaeawai - Close to Ngawha Springs.


DO:

  • Ngawha Springs - 16 natural pools and each one has different minerals and varying temperatures. The best experience for us was jumping from freezing cold to extremely hot!


  • Waipoua Forest


  • Marvel at Tane Mahuta the ‘God of the Forest’ - a 2000-year-old Kauri Tree.


  • Walk in wonder in Trounson Kauri National Park.


  • Have a look at the Kiwi Night Tours - It's one of the few places in New Zealand to see Kiwis in the wild.


  • Kai Iwi Lakes – The perfect lunch spot in off-season, or a hive for water-based activities in summer.



Kai Iwi Lake New Zealand
Kai Iwi Lake is a beautiful lunch spot!

 


COROMANDEL AREA – 2-3 Days


You'll need to drive about 6 hours passing back through Auckland, to reach the Coromandel peninsula – an area with some of the best scenery in New Zealand.



THE BEST ROAD TRIP STOPS IN COROMANDEL


Hot Water Beach


STAY: There's a good freedom camping guide to the Coromandel that you can find here – and as always, it is best to follow local signage too.


We liked Tui Terrace and Paku Drive Carpark, and if you choose to stay in the latter you can hike 1km up Mt Paku Summit for a beautiful sunrise!


DO: Hot Water Beach is a unique natural wonder not to be missed when in the Coromandel for your New Zealand road trip!


To experience the beach 'spa', head down to the southern end of the beach within 2 hours on either side of low tide, and start digging!


If you want to make it a beach day, head over to the slightly more secluded Sailors Grave Beach for a gentle coastal walk to the lonely grave of 22-year-old William Simpson, a sailor who died in 1842.



Mercury and Alderman Islands


STAY: To visit the stunning Mercury Islands you'll need to sleep on the mainland – and there are freedom camping options in both Whitianga and Kuaotunu - We stayed at Lee Street Car Park.


DO:

  • Take a boat to Great Mercury Island from Whitianga Wharf – enjoy the stunning secluded beach and go wakeboarding.





Cathedral Cove


STAY: As you'll be visiting Cathedral Cove by boat, it would be a good idea to use the camping apps to find a spot close to your tour operator - whether that is from Whitianga, Cooks Bay or even Auckland!


DO: Cathedral Cove is your postcard picture of the Coromandel.


You used to be able to walk from Hahei Beach but unfortunately, this is now closed due to unsafe conditions. This makes this once-free activity a bit more expensive as the only access now is via a boat or kayak tour from Hahei Beach - so check for discounts on BookMe.


Cathedral Cove in Coromandel
Me and Erin at Cathedral Cove in Coromandel


Whenuakura (Donut) Island


STAY: Whangamata and visiting Donut Island used to be a local secret but this activity is gaining more and more popularity. There are loads of designated freedom sites on the mainland in Whangamata but each only has a few spots, so get there early for a decent pitch.


DO: As with most activities in the beautiful Coromandel, and whilst on this New Zealand North Island Road Trip, the best stuff happens on the water!


Visit Donut Island by kayak rented from Surfsup Whangamata! The island is under the guardianship of the local Iwi (Maori tribe) so you must stay on/in the water, you can join a guided tour or in good weather, freedom hire the kayaks. We LOVED this activity.



 


HAMILTON GREATER AREA – 5 Days


Next on this awesome New Zealand road trip itinerary for the North Island, we move just a couple hours south into the green rolling hills of the Hamilton area.



THE BEST ROAD TRIP STOPS IN HAMILTON GREATER AREA


Waitomo Caves


STAY: The closest freedom camping spots to Waitomo caves are in Te Kuiti around 15 minutes away – check them out on CamperMate. 


We actually decided to stay a bit closer and have a night away from the van at Juno Hall Backpackers. It was the perfect opportunity to do some laundry, enjoy a real kitchen, and also cuddle their cute lambs!


DO: There are a few different ways you can experience the Waitomo Caves, from family-friendly paddling trips to having a go at abseiling and rafting. We went with the Black Water Rafting - it was amazing!


The lovely lambs at Juno Hall
The lovely lambs at Juno Hall

Hamilton Gardens


STAY: If your van is CSC (Certified Self-Containment) you can park overnight on any public road in Hamilton.


DO:

  • Hamilton Gardens - Perfect for a stroll in the sun, our favourite was the Japanese Garden of Contemplation.




Hamilton Gardens
Hamilton Gardens

Hobbiton


STAY: There are a couple of paid-for campsites next door to the Shire (one for $10pppn and one for $40pn Cash). But more interestingly there are a few freedom spots 5 to 10 minutes away – Horahora Domain and Moana Roa Recreational Area.


DO:

''I’m going on an adventure!''


As you walk around the corner, down the path where Bilbo exclaims his famous line you get your first glimpse of the shire - and its pure magic!


Peter Jackson didn’t miss a thing and the Hobbiton tours are so well planned that as you wander the Hobbit paths in The Shire it never feels crowded, you learn so much about how the Alexander family sheep farm was transformed into movie magic, finishing up with a brew in The Green Dragon Inn.



Britani at Hobbiton
Living my dream at Hobbiton - One of my favourite stops on our North island Road Trip!


Raglan


STAY: Raglan doesn’t have any designated freedom camping spots but has a few low-cost sites and you can stay anywhere that isn’t a ‘red zone’ on the Raglan Freedom camping map.


DO:

  • Surfing

  • Rock climbing

  • Caving

  • Canyoning

  • Visit Xtreme Waste non-profit for a tour.


 


ROTORUA/TAUPO – 5 Days


Next on this one-month New Zealand Road trip itinerary for the North Island, you'll be heading a 2-hour drive inland to Rotorua and Taupo.


Rotura and Taupo are only an hour apart, and this area is a volcanic hotspot in NZ with one of the world’s most active geothermal fields. Everywhere you turn there's evidence of its volcanic history and you can’t escape the smell of sulphur (eggy farts!)



Rotorua


STAY: There are two main designated freedom camping spots in central Rotorua, in the Lakeside Car Park and Hinemoa Street Car Park.


DO:





  • Redwood Treewalk - A spectacular forest of redwoods with suspended bridges and viewing platforms lit up beautifully by lanterns in the evenings.





Skydiving at Velocity Valley
Indoor Skydiving at Velocity Valley


Mini Golf with Rabbits!
Mini Golf with Rabbits!

Taupo


STAY: There are two designated freedom camping sites around Taupo – Reids Farm near the Hipapatua Recreational Reserve and the Aratiatia Amenity Area.


DO:

  • Hot N Cold Creek - The meeting point of a hot spring and a cold river makes for a very strange sensation!



  • Huka Falls and Aratiatia - This is an impressive sight!


  • Wander the lakefront of central Taupo and take a mandatory snap by the LoveTaupo sign.


  • View the Māori Rock Carvings on a Kayak tour with Canoe&Kayak - Your guide will tell you lots of interesting background stories along the way.



  • Tongariro Crossing - A spectacular, yet challenging, 20km hike adjacent to LOTR's Mount Doom (a shuttle will bring you to the start).


Tongariro Crossing
Tongariro Crossing


Kaituna White water rafting
Kaituna white water rafting

 


WELLINGTON AREAS – 5 Days


STAY: There are two designated freedom camping spots in Wellington – Evans Bay Marina Carpark and Te Kopahou Visitors Centre Carpark.


DO:


  • Mount Victoria Hike - A web of trails filled with filming locations for LOTR, perfect for a self-guided tour for fans of the movies, where you can have fun recreating scenes.




Chocolate making in Wellington
Chocolate making in Wellington


Other Possible Things in the Wellington Region (day trips)


  • Surfing spots all along the cape, especially Lyall Bay.

  • Kapiti Island via ferry - A beautiful nature reserve and a bird watcher's paradise.

  • Cape Palliser - The southernmost tip of the North Island - it is well worth the drive, with scenic views the entire way.


We didn’t get the opportunity to explore the East Coast as we would have liked – our next New Zealand adventure will include Hawkes Bay, Tauranga and the East Cape.


 


TAKING THE FERRY TO THE SOUTH ISLAND


The ferries run from Wellington which is in the North Island - crossing the Cook Strait to Picton on the South Island.


There are two ferry companies Bluebridge and Interislander - there isn’t much difference between the two except that Interislander boats are a tad larger. The crossing takes around 3 hours (weather dependent) and there’s plenty of space on board to find a comfortable spot for the journey (they even have a cinema).


Out on deck, it was very windy and cold but with amazing views, we chose an evening ferry to see the beautiful sunset. It is strongly advised to book the ferries in advance as the van/car spots sell out regularly. We booked several months in advance with the flexible option to change the date and it was $330 for two adults, one van, one way.



The Ferry from North Island to South Island
The Ferry from North Island to South Island

 


Thank you for reading this Ultimate Road Trip Itinerary for New Zealand's North Island, if you enjoyed the read, please consider subscribing to the I Dream of Mangoes Blog where we post articles once per week filled with travel tips, inspiration, and stories from adventures around the world.



Britani Bryce

GUEST WRITER

NZ & PACIFIC

Britani I dream of Mangoes guest Writer



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I Dream of Mangoes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. That being said, I only link to products I use and love.

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