- 11 Days -

North Island Self Drive

We're just assembling some amazing activities to choose from - wont be long!

After a couple of days in Auckland including perhaps a guided coastal trails walking tour, set off on an exciting 11 day self drive itinerary that includes the best of the North Island. Drive to Tongariro, your opportunity to conquer the world-famous Tongairo Crossing, then continue your self drive vacation with a visit to trendy Wellington, not forgetting our free Wellington day tour offer. Then drive north, along the east coast of the North Island, visiting the important wine growing regions of Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay. Your final visit, and maybe the highlight of your stay, is experiencing the geothermal wonders of Rotorua.

Days 1 to 3

The City of Auckland

Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand, in fact nearly two-thirds of the population live in the larger Auckland region. The city lies on a massive harbor, part of the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park, dotted with over 50 islands. Great restaurants, sailing, shopping, outstanding scenery and a thriving art and cultural life are the hallmarks of the city of Auckland. Start by selecting the activities that appeal to you in Auckland and adding them to your Wish List. And use the the maps to see your daily progress.

Also see our Great Barrier Island Blog

Day 3

Drive from Auckland to Tongariro National Park

  • 214 Miles
  • 4 Hours

This will be a long day with interesting optional excursions to enjoy along the way, so an early start is essential. After an hour and a half driving we get you off the main highway to an alternative route where you'll enjoy beautiful rural landscapes that many visitors never had the chance to experience. The activities you choose below will have an impact on your traveling times today.

Days 3 to 5

Tongariro National Park

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.

Day 5

Drive Tongariro National Park to Wellington

  • 195 Miles
  • 4 Hours

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.

Days 5 to 7

Trendy Wellington, Capital City

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.

Day 7

Drive from Wellington to Napier

  • 200 Miles
  • 4 Hours

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.

Days 7 to 9

Art Deco Napier, Wine Country

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.

Day 9

Drive from Napier to Rotorua

  • 136 Miles
  • 2 3/4 Hours

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.

Days 9 to 11

The Geothermal Wonders of Rotorua

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

Day 11

Farewell New Zealand

  • 134 Miles
  • 2 1/2 Hours

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.

Prices:

Please contact us for a personalised itinerary price that will match your budget, time and interests.

This will include your accommodation, car hire, ferries and any local tours we recommend you pre-book before you arrive in New Zealand.

Tiritiri Matangi

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. 

  • Allow: Full day
  • Cost: $60 including Guided Tour and Ferry from Downtown Auckland (75 minutes each way)
  • Age: All
  • Best time: November - March
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Rangitoto Island

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.

  • Allow: Half Day
  • Cost: Ferry $21.00 Return
  • Age: All
  • Best time: November - April
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The Auckland Art Gallery

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.

  • Allow: Half Day
  • Cost: Free. Charges may apply to special exhibitions
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All year
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Auckland Coastal Trails

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

  • Allow: Full Day
  • Cost: $209.00 per person includes transport, snacks, hot/cold drinks and a delicious picnic lunch, taxes and park fees.
  • Age: 18+
  • Best time: November - April
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Waiheke Island Vineyards

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. 

  • Allow: Full Day 10:00 am to 4:45 pm
  • Cost: $80.00 + Ferry $24.00 + Lunch
  • Age: 18 +
  • Best time: November - April
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Matakana & Beaches

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


  • Allow: Half to a full day
  • Cost: Free
  • Age: All
  • Best time: November - April
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America's Cup Sailing

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.

  • Allow: 2 hours
  • Cost: From $120.00
  • Age: All (no children under 10 years permitted)
  • Best time: November to April
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City Walking Tours

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.

  • Allow: 90 minutes
  • Cost: Guided from $28.00
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All Year
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Waitomo Caves

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.

  • Allow: Adds 2 hours to todays driving time - Guided Cave tour takes 45 minutes
  • Cost: From $35.00
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All Year
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Surf Town Raglan

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.

  • Allow: 30 Minutes
  • Cost: No Charge
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All year
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The Tree Church

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

  • Allow: An hour
  • Cost: $8.00
  • Age: All
  • Best time: November - April
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Glow Worms Kakahi

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 to the tiny settlement of Kakahi. Here you are able to visit beautiful Glow Worm Caves, much less known or sophisticated than their famous cousins at Waitomo but offering the advantage of free visits. Keep an eye out for local delicacy, freshwater mussels.

  • Allow: 2 hours
  • Cost: Free
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All Year
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The Tongariro Crossing

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.

  • Allow: Full day including an early start
  • Cost: Park Entry Free - Return transport to start point and from end point $45.00
  • Age: All
  • Best time: November - April
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Tongariro River Rafting

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.

  • Allow: Half Day
  • Cost: From $125.00
  • Age: All
  • Best time: November - April
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The Taranaki Falls Walk

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.

  • Allow: Trail Time 2 Hours
  • Cost: Free
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All Year
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Lake Rotopounamu Trail

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. 

  • Allow: 2 Hours
  • Cost: Free
  • Age: All
  • Best time: November to April
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Pipiriki, Whanganui River

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.

  • Allow: One hour drive return. 45 minutes on the river
  • Cost: From $80.00
  • Age: All
  • Best time: September - April
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The Bridge to Nowhere

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

  • Allow: Overnight
  • Cost: From $255.00 - includes; dinner, accommodation, breakfast, tour and jet boat transfer between the Lodge and Pipiriki.
  • Age: All
  • Best time: September - April
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Hemi Matenga Reserve

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.

  • Allow: 1-2 hours
  • Cost: Free
  • Age: All
  • Best time: November - April
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Kapiti Island Reserve

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.

  • Allow: One or Two days
  • Cost: One Day from $100, Overnight $300
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All Year
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Wellington - FREE OFFER

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.

  • Allow: A half day, tailored to your needs
  • Cost: $90.00 but complimentary to New Zealand Vacations customers
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All Year
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Te Papa National Museum

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.

  • Allow: 1 Hour
  • Cost: $10.00
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All Year
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Zealandia Wildlife

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.

  • Allow: Half day
  • Cost: From $18.50
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All year
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The Weta Workshops

Although famous for their award winning work on movies like Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy, the Weta Workshop has a creative portfolio that spans a large number of other blockbuster movies and gaming properties. These include The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla and DOTA2. Anyone with even the slightest interest in movies and gaming should visit this fantastic 65,000 square foot multi–disciplinary facility..

  • Allow: 45 Minutes
  • Cost: From $25
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All year
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Towns of Wairarapa

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!

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  • Best time: All year
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Stonehenge

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.

  • Allow: 1 Hour
  • Cost: From $16
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All year
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Mount Bruce Wildlife

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!

  • Allow: 1 Hour
  • Cost: $14.00
  • Age: All
  • Best time: November - April
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Art Deco Napier

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. 

  • Allow: One Hour
  • Cost: Downloadable Self-guided Walk Brochure $6:00. One hour guided walking tour $17.00
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All Year
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Cape Kidnappers Gannets

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.

  • Allow: 4-5 hours
  • Cost: From $75.00
  • Age: All
  • Best time: November - April
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Best of New Zealand Wines

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.

  • Allow: 5 Hours - Afternoon
  • Cost: From $80
  • Age: Adults
  • Best time: All year
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Bicycle Wine Tour

'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.

  • Allow: Choose from 2 Hours to 1 Day
  • Cost: $35.00 per person including bike hire & helmet & exclusive guide map
  • Age: 20+
  • Best time: November - April
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Waipunga Waterfalls

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. 

  • Allow: 30 Minutes
  • Cost: Free
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All Year
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The Tarawera Cafe

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. 

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  • Cost:
  • Age:
  • Best time:
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The Huka Falls

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.

  • Allow: 30 minutes
  • Cost: Free
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All Year
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Kayak on Lake 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.

  • Allow: 4 Hours
  • Cost: $75.00 including full instruction, top quality kayaks and gourmet refreshments.
  • Age: All
  • Best time: November - April
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The Polynesian Spa

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!

  • Allow: Varies
  • Cost: From $30.00
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All Year
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Whakarewarewa

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.

  • Allow: Minimum 1 hour
  • Cost: From $35.00 for a fully guided one hour tour through the Village and a Maori Cultural Performance Show.
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All Year
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Rail Cruising Rotorua

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!

  • Allow: 2 hours
  • Cost: From $55.00
  • Age: All
  • Best time: All Year
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Te Urewera Treks

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

  • Allow: One Day (The Two Day experience is also strongly recommended)
  • Cost: From $150.00
  • Age: All
  • Best time: November to April
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