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New Zealand Road Trip: North Island Itinerary

Victoria in Bay of Islands

This is the second part of our back-to-nature New Zealand road trip itinerary. The first part focussed on the South Island, and this part takes us to the North Island.

In the first post, I also explained all the logistics of our road trip in New Zealand: how much we spent, the kinds of places we stayed, and the experiences we were looking for. I suggest reading that one first then delving into this one for all the North Island details.

New Zealand Road trip itinerary, including costs and advice.

A road trip in New Zealand’s North Island

New Zealand road trip Wellington


Days 12-15

Our time in the North Island began in Wellington, which was named one of “the world’s coolest small capitals” by Lonely Planet. After almost a whole month in nature, it was a bit of a shock to be back in a city environment and we didn’t love Wellington as much as we thought we would. That said we were biased because of our mood and I think the city has a lot to offer. There were lots of excellent restaurants and cafes and we enjoyed the city’s creative vibe. The botanical gardens are also beautiful. For more info on Wellington, I recommend reading Liz’s post as she lived there for a while and loved it.

Accommodation in Wellington

We did a home exchange in Wellington, using the website Home Exchange. I’ll be writing more on that soon as it has become one of my favourite ways to travel.

Travel to Wellington

We got to Wellington by taking the Interislander ferry from Picton. The first half of the three-hour journey is beautiful, taking you through the magnificent Marlborough Sounds. After that, you’re on the open sea, which was pretty rocky. I felt very sea sick, which didn’t mix well with all the wine from the day before! 

While in Wellington, we walked everywhere.

New Zealand road trip Tongariiro


Days 15-16

We had grand plans for Tongariro and really want to do the one-day Tongariro Crossing hike, but we both injured ourselves so had to pull out. The Wanderlusters have written a guide to the hike here. As we couldn’t do it, we opted for a shorter walk from up near the Whakapapa Apline Chairlift. The chairlift itself wasn’t in use but we walked around the area and got a great view of Mount Ngauruhoe, which was Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings.

Accommodation in Tongariro

We stayed at the Adventure Lodge and Motel, which was clean but basic and run by a rather unfriendly woman. But she was really knowledgeable about the area and this would be a fine place to stay if you’re doing the hike (they give lifts to the start of the hike in the morning). It cost NZ$110 (£55) for a double room.

Travel in Tongariro

We hired a car in Wellington, which we kept for the next five days before collecting a camper van in Auckland. We used Omega Rentals again.

The journey from Wellington to Tongariro was meant to take four hours, but we hit traffic, which made it more like five.

New Zealand road trip lake taupo

Lake Taupo

Days 16-17

Lake Taupo is the North Island’s answer to Queenstown, filled with lots of adventure activities and gorgeous nature to explore. It’s a laidback little town that you could easily spend a few days in. We were there for just one night and used that time to walk along the lakeshore, visit the magnificent Huka Falls, and relax at the amazing Wairakei Terraces, a little complex of thermal pools, fed by the mineral-laden Wairakei geothermal steamfield, and surrounded by beautiful gardens. It’s one of the most beautiful thermal spas I’ve ever been to, and spending the evening there bathing in the pools as the sun went down was magical. You can also take a self-guided tour of a re-created Maori village, including an artificial geyser.

Accommodation in Taupo

We stayed in a double room at a friendly hostel called Tiki Lodge Backpackers, which cost NZ$80 (£40) for a double room. It’s in easy walking distance of the town.

Travel to Taupo

The drive from Tongariro to Lake Taupo took one hour. It’s a beautiful drive with some pretty viewpoints along the way where we stopped for a picnic.

New Zealand road trip - Rotorua


Days 18-19

Rotorua is the place to go to see New Zeland’s thermal activity and learn about Maori life. Nicknamed ‘Sulphur City’ it’s the North Island’s most smelly destination, home to steaming hot springs, impressive geysers and bubbling mud pools. Thirty five percent of the population is Maori and there are a couple of centres you can visit to learn more about Maori life.

A few years ago there was a rift within the main Maori tourist attraction, which resulted in it being split in two. On one side is Te Puia and on the other side is Whakarewarewa Village. We chose to go to Whakarewarewa as this is a little village where Maori people still live today and we felt that