- 11 Days -
We're just assembling some amazing activities to choose from - wont be long!
Almost two-thirds of the population of New Zealand live in the Auckland region. The city lies on a massive harbor, called The Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park, dotted with over 50 islands. There are great restaurants and shopping opportunities and a thriving cultural life. Close by is outstanding scenery. Start an optional Wish List by selecting the activities that appeal to you in Auckland and use the the maps to see your daily progress.
Also see our Great Barrier Island Blog
This will be a long day of driving, but with many interesting activities to enjoy along the way. The highlight for most will be the world famous Waitomo Caves. A great start to your self drive North Island tour.
This massive high country plateau, a World Heritage Park, is an incredibly diverse region of tussock grassland, wild rivers, forests and birdlife with the three volcanoes of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu dominating the landscape. There are great walking and biking trails, white water rafting, some of the best trout fishing in the world and the highlight of any visit, the Tongariro Crossing. The ultimate destination for any adventurer.
Instead of taking the the main road south, follow the beautiful Whanganui River Road for 80 miles, passing rural landscapes and enjoying forest and river views until you reach the town of Wanganui. From Wanganui, rejoin the main road south for an easy drive, following the coastline and reaching the capital city of Wellington two hours later.
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and the country's most cosmopolitan city. Since the opening of the new National Museum "Te Papa" it has become an increasingly popular destination for international visitors and food lovers will appreciate the large number of excellent boutique cafes and ethnic restaurants that are a feature of the city.
This will be the longest day of our North Island itinerary, a 4 hour drive, traveling North to Napier. Highlights will include great scenery over the winding hills of the spectacular Rimutaka Ranges, charming country towns and boutique vineyards.
This is the Hawkes Bay, one of the premier wine growing regions of New Zealand. Restaurants, chic cafes and wine tasting opportunities abound in this quiet, sun drenched and peacful corner of the North Island with all local roads leading to the fascinating Art Deco city of Napier.
Today you join the spectacular Thermal Highway to Taupo, climbing through forest-covered mountains offering great views. At times the road is winding so care is needed. After reaching Taupo the relaxing drive to Rotorua completes a wonderful day.
Rotorua is your opportunity to experience the fascinating culture and history of the Maori people. It's also known for bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers and natural hot spring spas.
Also see our Whirinaki Forest Blog
Today you drive to Auckland Airport to connect with your homeward flight to the USA. An early start will give you plenty of time to visit Hobbiton before you continue to the airport. Kia Ora New Zealand and please return one day soon.
Tiritiri Matangi Island in the Hauraki Gulf is one of New Zealand's most important bird conservation projects and one of the few places where you can see and walk amongst rare native birds in their natural habitat. Over the years more than 300,000 native trees have been planted by volunteers and a number of threatened bird species and small animals re-introduced. These include the flightless takahe, one of the world’s rarest species, and the fascinating and ancient lizard like tuatara.
Rangitoto Island is a large extinct island volcano just a 25 minute ferry ride from the city. On arrival make your way to the summit, an easy walk of about one hour with spectacular views of nearby islands, the harbor and city. On the way pass through black volcanic lava fields covered by fern glens and the largest forest of native pōhutukawa trees in the world. An exciting new development was the announcement in 2011 that the island was now predator-free and this has seen native birds return to the island in large numbers.
Closed in 2007 for 4 years of extensive renovations, this wonderful gallery has now re-opened as one of the country's most iconic buildings. Experience world-class touring exhibitions, immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and atmosphere of traditional and contemporary international works of art and discover the largest permanent collection of New Zealand art right in the heart of Auckland City.
This is a terrific opportunity to experience some of New Zealand’s best walking tracks along the trails of the wild West Coast, just 40 minutes from Auckland. Your guide for the day will also take you to waterfalls and rainforest scenery that will take your breath away! A basic level of fitness is required as are good walking shoes
Beautiful white sand beaches, vineyards and outstanding scenery are just some of the attractions of Waiheke Island. After a 45 ferry ride from downtown Auckland, you'll be greeted by your local guide, followed by a scenic tour of the island and tastings at three local boutique vineyards. A two-hour lunch stop at a village café or one of the vineyard restaurants completes an interesting and relaxing day.
The Saturday morning Matakana Farmers' Market is a showcase for local artisans, growers and farmers. Enjoy freshly brewed coffee, artisan baking, organic chocolates and fine wines. Nestled on the banks of the picturesque Matakana River, the village is a great place to visit on any day of the week, just a 40 minute drive from Auckland; be there in time for a delicious cafe breakfast and afterwards visit this nearby "secret spot", one of our favorite beaches in all of New Zealand
Auckland, also known as 'The City of Sails' is the city that provided the core of the team that first won the America’s Cup in 1995 in San Diego. Here's your opportunity to feel the thrill of sailing an authentic America’s Cup yacht. Take the helm to help steer, work hard on the grinders to hoist the mainsail or simply sit back and enjoy the scenery.
We can help you arrange a free self-guided walk around the city or for a more in-depth experience, you can walk with an expert guide to discover some of the hidden treasures of Auckland City. From the must-see highlights and picturesque views, to the trendy backstreets and cultural offerings, there will be a range of experiences on offer and stories about how this young city emerged from a narrow volcanic isthmus to become a bustling, cosmopolitan city on the edge of the world.
This is one New Zealand's iconic visitor attractions. The glow worm, Arachnocampa luminosa is unique to New Zealand and thousands of these tiny creatures radiate their unmistakable luminescent light as your expert guides explains the Caves' historical and geological significance. A highlight of a visit to Waitomo Caves is the river boat ride under the thousands of magical glowworms.
If you depart from Auckland nice and early you'll have time to include a drive of one hour round-trip to the colorful seaside town of Raglan, the place made famous by film-maker Bruce Brown in his legendary surfing documentary 'The Endless Summer' A must-do for anyone with even the vaguest connection with surfing. We have a blog about our visit to Raglan here.
In 2011, local resident Barry Cox decided to construct a unique church on his remote rural farm, made of living trees. He never imagined it ever becoming a tourist attraction but there's been so much interest in his project that his Tree Church Gardens is now available for public viewing. Enjoy first-hand the living Church, the labyrinth walk and the extensive gardens. Read about our visits to the Tree Church in our blog - North Island Highlights - The Tree Church & The Warden
Towards the end of todays drive, take this excursion, away from the main route south, into one of the most remote parts of the North Island, the tiny settlement of Kakahi. Here you are able to visit their Glow Worm Caves, much less known than their famous cousins at Waitomo but offering the advantage of a free visit. Also, keep an eye out for local delicacy, freshwater mussels.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is widely regarded as the best one-day trek available in New Zealand and is ranked among the top ten single-day treks in the world. This will be a long day and a challenging one, traversing a remarkable volcanic landscape. Ever present as you walk is the brooding Mount Ngauruhoe, used by filmmaker Peter Jackson as Mt Doom in his Lord of The Rings and Hobbit movies.
The is one of New Zealand's best river rafting experiences. After an on-shore safety briefing and paddle instructions with an experienced guide you begin your white water rafting journey on grade 3 rapids – an ideal grade for experienced paddlers or first-time rafters. In 2.5 hours you navigate over 60 roller coaster rapids with your expert guide at the helm and treated to sights only accessed by raft.
Taranaki Falls is a 20-minutes drive away from National Park Village where most of our New Zealand Vacations customers will stay. An easy 2 hours loop, the Taranaki Falls Walk leads to the waterfalls lookout, and then to the waterfall's base. The track is awesome! The first part of the track goes through the alpine grassland with amazing views of the volcanoes. The second part of the loop goes through the beech forest with some river crossings (all bridged) and small waterfalls.
This beautiful lake is a 25 minute drive from the town of National Park where most of our New Zealand Vacations customers will stay. From the Rotopounamu car park it's just a 20 minute walk to the lake or 2 hours if you choose to walk around the 3 mile loop trail. Beautiful Rotopounamu (the greenstone lake) is nestled into the side of Mt Pihanga and is a favorite place for birdwatchers, walkers and swimmers.
Just 25 minutes south of Tongariro is a side road to Pipiriki, the access point one of the most remote and beautiful rivers in New Zealand, The Whanganui River. You'll travel by jet boat exploring magnificent forest scenery, deep ravines covered in mosses and an array of native ferns.
This option will require an extra day to be added to your vacation, but it's a choice you will never regret. Stay overnight at The Bridge to Nowhere Lodge deep in the Whanganui National Park wilderness, perched high above the river and accessible only by jet boat, canoe, by foot or helicopter. The canoe journey downstream, back to Pipiriki is simply breathtaking
At the town of Waikenae, an hour and a half south of Wanganui is a pleasant forest walk, situated at the nearby Hemi Matenga Scenic Reserve. The shortest forest trail takes just 30 minutes, but if you have time there's also an easy, well signposted walk to the summit at 1300 feet that will take you an extra hour. From here there are excellent views of the surrounding countryside and out to nearby Kapiti Island.
Kapiti Island is our favorite nature reserve, a place where you will encounter many of New Zealand's most beautiful and endangered species in the wild, including the elusive Kiwi. You can visit Kapiti Island for a day or to truly experience all the island has to offer, make an overnight stay at the lodge. Whichever of these options you choose, it will add a day to the duration of your vacation.
New Zealand Vacations director Jerry Bridge also owns the company "What To Do in Wellington" To support us in our launch year Jerry says that as long as he's in town (which he usually is) he will personally provide New Zealand Vacations customers with an exclusive and free personalized tour of Wellington visiting the main points of interest, some "off the beaten path" places and maybe some places of your own choosing. All you'll be responsible for are entry fees at the places you choose to visit. Thank's Jerry and the "What To Do in Wellington" team.
Te Papa is a state of the art museum bringing together under one roof the Maori & European history of New Zealand. It is New Zealand's national museum, the largest cultural project in New Zealand's history, completed in 1998 at a cost of $317 million. You will encounter Maori, New Zealand's indigenous people, through authentic portrayals of their traditions and living culture including an opportunity to visit a unique Marae (communal meeting place) The best introduction to Te Papa is this 90 minute guided tour that explains Maori culture and treasures, art and New Zealand's colonial history.
The Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary is an outstanding example of efforts to save New Zealand most endangered native birds and animals. Visit in late afternoon to hear the dusk chorus of the birds before the nocturnal animals come to life or consider a night tour for a special experience. This will be the best opportunity on your itinerary to see such a wide variety of beautiful native birds and other native wildlife.
Although famous for their award winning work on movies like Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy, the
A special feature of todays drive are the rural landscapes and small towns you will encounter along the way. American film director James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar, The Termintor) chose to make his New Zealand home in the Wairarapa district. Our favorite place is Greytown, with many beautiful examples of Victorian architecture and some excellent cafes. This part of New Zealand, centered at the town of Martinborough also has over 25 boutique vineyards and some fabulous restaurants, tempting those who might like to add a day to their itinerary to savor the local delights!
A full-scale working adaptation of the world famous Stonehenge in England has been built right here in Aotearoa (New Zealand) allowing you to experience the wonders of the stone circles. You will discover how stones, posts and shadows were used to unlock the mysteries of the earth and sky to form a cornerstone to the rise of civilization. Situated close to the town of Carterton.
Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre is a sanctuary for wounded and endangered New Zealand wildlife. It's also home to a rare white North Island Brown Kiwi, the only one in captivity. Wander through the interactive gallery and watch the lizard like Tuatara being fed at 11.30am daily. In the Kiwi Nocturnal House you might see a kiwi chick being fed in the nursery or if you are really lucky, witness a hatching!
In 1931 Napier was almost completely destroyed by a devastating earthquake. An interesting outcome of interest to visitors from the USA is that after the earthquake, a delegation visited Santa Barbara in California which had been rebuilt after their terrible earthquake of 1925. As a result of this visit the city fathers decided that Napier would be rebuilt in the Spanish Mission style of Santa Barbara, but although examples of this style are still to be found, it was the Art Deco style of the 30's that eventually prevailed.
This is the world's largest and most accessible colony of gannets birds where over 6,500 breeding pairs make their homes. Travel from Napier in a specialized air conditioned 4x4 vehicle to these amazing nesting grounds, a 'must see' for any visitor.
A fun filled wine tasting afternoon with like-minded people anxious to gain an appreciation of this regions fantastic wine. Visit four to five wineries including an enjoyable cheese platter besides the lilly pond at Ngatarawa Vineyard. Taste around 30 different wines including the main varieties, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris.
'On Yer Bike Winery Tours' offers a great fun one-day cycling experience exploring wineries in the region by bike, following a user-friendly map. Discover some of the regions finest wineries, taste wines and take in the superb scenery of the Gimblett Gravels and Bridge Pa Triangle wine growing regions. The terrain is flat and the cycling easy passing vineyards, olive groves, horse studs, orchards and farmland.
Roughly halfway on todays drive, make a stop at the beautiful Waipunga Falls and the Waiarua Falls. Both waterfalls are clearly signposted and easy accessible with great views from the car park.
Halfway between Taupo and Napier, not far from the Waipunga Waterfalls is the Tarawera Cafe, one of the few places on this stretch of road where you can enjoy a coffee while you stretch your legs and relax.
Lake Taupo is New Zealand's largest lake and it empties into the country's longest river, the Waikato River and at this point of its journey, the Huka Falls, between banks just 300ft part. The result is truly spectacular. Don't miss it, just off the main road before arriving at the town of Taupo.
This kayak lake tour includes a visit to a series of huge stone carvings on the lake, created by master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell. No experience is necessary - the double kayaks are safe and easy to use and all trips are guided and full instruction is given. . A truly a unique trip and one you will remember.
This is a historic natural hot mineral springs spa that for 3 years in a row was selected by the prestigious magazine Conde Nast Traveler as one of the world's top ten Medical & Thermal Spas. There are twenty-seven hot mineral pools in the Lake Spa offering a complete range of body & skin therapies. Visitor options range from family pools to private luxury seclusion. Lie back, relax, enjoy!
This site is a replica of a pre-European fortified Maori village, completely surrounded by a natural thermal area that includes silica terraces, mud pools and the famous geyser Pohutu shooting boiling water nearly 70 feet in the air. End your visit at the Maori Arts & Crafts Institute where you can watch Maori wood carvers at work.
Rail Cruising is a new activity that allows you to experience travel along railway lines in your own self-drive, 4-seat railway vehicle while admiring the scenery of the passing countryside. Cruising along at 12 mph, you can listen to the commentary and discover a unique piece of New Zealand railway history. Great fun!
This full day tour of the magnificent Whirinaki Forest Park brings this world to life as you walk the forest tracks, your Maori guides sharing stories about their tribal history and the amazing birdlife, flora and fauna of the region. A relaxing luncheon on the banks of the picturesque Whirinaki river provides an opportunity to experience the solitude, the beauty and tranquility of this wilderness areas. Rated 5 star by the New Zealand Vacations team.
Also read our Whirinaki Forest Blog