New Zealand North Island: 4-day Itinerary (and Suggestions for 5 or 6 Days)

A whirlwind tour of the New Zealand’s North Island in 4 days?  Yes!  It was jam-packed but we were able to fit in some amazing adventures!  We experienced the beauty of glow worm caves underground to exploring the natural technicolor sulphur springs at Wai-o-Tapu. Of course with kids, we packed in some fun times as well!

We let gravity do its thing as we raced down the side of a mountain in luges, and tumbled down hills inside a giant inflatable ball.  And of course, who could visit New Zealand without experiencing a little bit of Middle Earth!   Did we explore every corner of the  Island?  As you can see the size of the area on the map of New Zealand North Island, of course not.  Did we enjoy every single moment of it?  Absolutely.

Here’s how we explored the North Island of New Zealand in 4 days:

Day 1:  Leisure Day in Auckland

Okay.   The very first day, we took it relatively easy… keep in mind we just landed in the morning after a 16-hour flight!  But we did take the chance to explore a bit of the city of Auckland – which reminded us a lot of our home city.  We explore a bit of the harbour area, hiked up Mount Eden, and enjoyed some great food and coffee.

Family Travel map of North Island New Zealand
Read up on our Leisure Day In Auckland

Going from Auckland to to Waitomo

Driving Option

  • Route: State Highway 1 (SH1) southbound from Auckland to Hamilton, then State Highway 3 (SH3) to Waitomo.
  • Driving Time: Approximately 2.5 to 3 hours without stops.
  • ptions: Consider stopping in Hamilton for a break and to explore attractions like Hamilton Gardens or Zealong Tea Estate.

Bus Option

  • Provider: Intercity or Nakedbus
  • Time: Approximately 3.5 to 4.5 hours.
  • Costs: Prices vary depending on the booking time and seat type.
  • Details: Both Intercity and Nakedbus offer direct bus services from Auckland to Waitomo. Advanced booking is recommended.

Day 2:  Waitomo & Ruakuri Caves

After a good nights’ rest we were ready to begin our road trip!  First stop was to explore the incredible caves at Waitomo.  It was a bit of a drive (3 hours) but absolutely worth it!  This was easily one of the highlights of our Oceania vacation!

Our full coverage of Waitomo & Ruakuri Caves

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We finished our  caves adventures by mid-afternoon, and hit the road again to head to our 2-night destination, Rotorua.

Going from Waitomo to Rotorua

Driving Option

  • Route: State Highway 3 (SH3) northbound from Waitomo to Te Kuiti, then State Highway 30 (SH30) to Rotorua.
  • Driving Time: Approximately 2.5 to 3 hours without stops.
  • Options: Stop in Te Kuiti to explore the nearby limestone formations or enjoy a meal in town.
See also  4 day New Zealand North Island Itinerary

Bus Option

  • Provider: Intercity or Nakedbus
  • Time: Approximately 4.5 to 6 hours, including transfers.
  • Costs: Prices vary depending on the booking time and seat type.
  • Details: Intercity and Nakedbus offer bus services from Waitomo to Rotorua with transfers at Hamilton or other major hubs.

Day 3:  Rotorua Geothermal Springs

Amazingly.  Relaxingly.  Adventurously Explore Rotorua.   This the slogan from the region’s official website.  I’m not so sure about the Kiwi grammar, but we did have an amazing, relaxing, and adventurous time.   There was a lot to do in this area and we could have easily added 1, 2 or even 3 more days to the itinerary, but we were able to both explore the unique natural phenomenons of the sulphur springs while having some exciting activities for the kids as well!   For our full day in Rotorua, we decided to explore these attractions:  Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, Government Gardens, and Kuirau Park.

Find out what we think of Rotorua Geothermal Area

Day 4 Morning:  Rotorua Fun Attractions

By the fifth day of the trip (including the flight from home), we thought it would be time to reward the kids by adding some exciting fun to the itinerary.   So our morning was packed with gravity-powered fun:  zorbing (rolling down a hill inside a giant inflatable ball) – check it out here, and speeding down the race courses at Skyline Luge.   It was such a blast!  Check out our reviews and some videos of the attractions:

Check out all the stuff that we did Rotorua Fun Attractions

Day 4 Afternoon:  A visit to Bag’s End

After lunch, it was time head out to our final tourist destination – the home of the Hobbits.   Even though I was the only Lord of the Rings fan in the family, all four of us enjoyed the  tour of the home of the hobbits, taking pictures, and listening to the behind-the-scene stories of one of the most ambitious and successful movie franchises ever.

What did we think of the world famous Hobbiton Movie Set

After a enjoying a much needed ale at the Green Dragon Inn, we hopped back into the car for a 2 hour drive back to Auckland, where we stayed the night before our next Oceanic destination – Australia.

Going from Rotorua to Hobbiton and Return to Auckland

Driving Option

  • Route: State Highway 5 (SH5) from Rotorua to Matamata, then local roads to Hobbiton Movie Set. Return via the same route to Auckland.
  • Driving Time: Approximately 2 to 2.5 hours each way without stops.
  • ptions: Take a guided tour at Hobbiton Movie Set and explore Matamata’s cafes and shops before returning to Auckland.

Tour Option

  • Provider: Various tour operators, such as GreatSights or Auckland Adventure Tours.
  • Time: Full-day tour, typically departing early morning and returning in the evening.
  • Costs: Prices vary depending on the operator and tour package chosen.
  • Details: Join a guided tour from Rotorua to Hobbiton, including transportation, entrance fees, and a guided tour of the movie set. Some tours may include additional stops or activities.
See also  Leisure Day in Auckland

And that was our whirlwind tour of New Zealand’s North Island!

Click on the links above to read in more detail about our adventures at each of these wonderful areas!

Add-ons to Extend the Itinerary to 5 or 6 days

We would be remiss to not mention the wonderful add-ons below if you have the luxury of spending 5 days or 6 days (or even longer) in the New Zealand North Island.

Outdoor Adventures:

Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Tongariro Alpine Crossing


  • Tongariro National Park Guided Trek: Score: 10/10. This iconic guided trek offers breathtaking scenery and a challenging yet rewarding experience. Estimated Extra Time: A full day for the trek itself, plus travel time to and from the park. You can also do it by yourself by hiring the shuttle only.
  • White-water Rafting on Kaituna River: Score: 8/10. An exhilarating activity that promised thrills and adrenaline. Estimated Extra Time: Half to a full day, including travel time and the duration of the rafting experience.
  • Beach Exploration in Bay of Islands: Score: 7/10. Exploring idyllic beaches in Bay of Islands called to relax and reconnect with nature. Estimated Extra Time: Half to a full day, depending on the number of beaches visited and desired activities (e.g., swimming, snorkeling).

Cultural Experiences:

Mitai Maori Village Cultural Experience
Mitai Maori Village Cultural Experience
  • Te Puia in Rotorua: Score: 9/10. Te Puia offers an immersive insight into Maori culture with its performances, crafts, and culinary delights. Estimated Extra Time: Half to a full day to fully explore the site and enjoy the cultural activities.
  • Waitangi Treaty Grounds: Score: 8/10. This historic site provides a significant glimpse into New Zealand’s colonial past and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Estimated Extra Time: Half to a full day to explore the grounds, attend cultural presentations, and learn about Maori and European history.
  • Art Deco Tour in Napier: Score: 7/10. History seemed to come alive at Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Napier’s art deco architecture stirred the imagination. Estimated Extra Time: A few hours for a guided walking or driving tour of Napier’s art deco highlights.
  • Sampling Maori Cuisine: Score: 8/10. Trying authentic Maori cuisine is a delicious way to immerse yourself in the local culture and flavors of New Zealand. Estimated Extra Time: An evening for a traditional hangi feast or visiting local eateries specializing in Maori cuisine.

Family-Friendly Activities:

  • Auckland Zoo Visit: Score: 8/10. Auckland Zoo provides an enjoyable and educational experience for families, with a wide variety of animals and interactive exhibits. Estimated Extra Time: Half to a full day, depending on the family’s interest in exploring the zoo’s exhibits and attending animal encounters.
  • Rainbow Springs Nature Park: Score: 8/10. Rainbow Springs Nature Park lets you see native wildlife up close and learn about conservation efforts in a beautiful natural setting. Estimated Extra Time: Half to a full day, including exploring the park’s attractions and participating in wildlife encounters.
  • Adventure World Rides in Auckland: Score: 7/10. Adventure World offers thrilling rides and entertainment for families seeking excitement and adrenaline-fueled fun. Estimated Extra Time: Half to a full day, depending on the family’s interest in experiencing the park’s rides and attractions.
See also  Rotorua Fun Activities

Hopefully after reading this list of add-ons has given you lots of possibilities. Now your only dilemma should be – how to fit it all into just a few extra precious days!

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