If you’re planning a trip around New Zealand’s North Island with the family, why not follow our handy 10-day driving guide for some top highlights.
This road trip is very flexible. If you live in Auckland you could shorten the trip to eight days, or you could add in extra days in places where you want to spend more time. Or if you live in or near one of the areas visited, just start your trip from there – it’s a circular route so you can start and finish anywhere you like.
IMPORTANT: Please check with individual attractions and activities for opening days and times and if a booking is required. Different regions may have travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 Protection Framework. Driving times are approximate. Allow plenty of extra time for rest stops.
Day 1 – 2: Auckland
Start your North Island road trip in New Zealand’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, Auckland. Popular attractions include SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton, Auckland War Memorial Museum, and Auckland Zoo. Scale to the top of Sky Tower for a fantastic view around the city and harbour and test your nerves on the glass floor! Or take a harbour cruise to Devonport on the ferry.
Day 3 – 4: Rotorua
Auckland to Rotorua : Distance 229km : Approximate Driving Time 2 hours 45 mins
Travel through green farmland to Rotorua, New Zealand’s thermal wonderland. Take in a Māori cultural experience or visit the many thermal geysers and mud pools that make Rotorua famous including Hell’s Gate and Wai-o-Tapu. Take the Skyline Gondola to the top of Mt Ngongotaha and then enjoy the excitement of the luge ride to the bottom!
Day 5: Taupo
Rotorua to Taupo : Distance 82km : Approximate Driving Time 1 hour
Suggested stop en route: Huka Prawn Park – This unique attraction is great entertainment for the whole family. Hand feed the baby prawns, explore the adventure trail, try out activities on the lake, and fish for prawns!
It’s just a short hop from Rotorua to Taupo, home of New Zealand’s largest lake. Once a huge volcano, Lake Taupo is now a water lover’s dream with activities galore. Take a cruise on the lake, visit the spectactular Huka Falls on the mighty Waikato River, or have a splashing good time at Taupo DeBretts with hot pools, hydroslides and a kids’ warm water playground.
Day 6 – 7: Wellington
Taupo to Wellington : Distance 371km : Approximate Driving Time 4 hours and 45 minutes
Suggested stop en route: National Army Museum at Waiouru – a fantastic museum for families to explore.
Travel south through the desolate Desert Road and the Tongariro National Park – don’t forget to stop for those awe-inspiring snaps of the volcanoes! Onward to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city and home to Te Papa, the National Museum. This extensive museum is situated on the waterfront and entry is free. A popular activity is to take a step back in time and travel on the Cable Car to enjoy the beautiful harbour views then make your way down to the city through the Botanical Gardens. Don’t forget a stop at Space Place at Carter Observatory for a look at our place in the universe.
Day 8: Whanganui
Wellington to Whanganui : Distance 194km : Approximate Driving Time 2 hours 35 mins
Suggested stop en route: Levin Adventure Park – an absolutely massive playground and park with so much to explore and enjoy!
Return northwards to Whanganui. The river can be enjoyed on a riverboat cruise, by canoe, or jetboat. Beautiful Virginia Lake Whanganui is a fantastic place to unwind. The Durie Hill War Memorial Tower, accessed via an underground elevator provides a great view.
Day 9: Waitomo
Whanganui to Waitomo : Distance 264km : Approximate Driving Time 3 hours 25 minutes
Suggested stop en route: National Park Village – great views of Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngauruhoe, and Mt Tongariro from this adventure hub.
Waitomo is famous for its stunning limestone caves and not to be missed is the silent boat journey through the glowworm grotto. It’s a magical place to visit or if you’re feeling adventurous, take the plunge and travel through the underwater river on an inner tube!
Day 10: Return to Auckland
Waitomo to Auckland : Distance 196 km : Approximate Driving Time 2 hours 25 mins
Suggested stop en route: Otorohanga Kiwi House provides close-up views of our national bird plus see and feed native birds, and view tuatara and reptiles. There’s also a great Kiwiana walkway in the town centre. Or if you’re feeling the need for speed, Hampton Downs offers everything from Go Karts to V8 laps.
Written by Julie Scanlon
Julie is Editor for Kidspot NZ and our MVP. Her hobbies include laughing uncontrollably at her own jokes, annoying her family by asking questions about movie plots, and never taking anything too seriously. She speaks a little Spanish and a lot of Yorkshire.
Favourite motto to live by: “It ain’t nothing but a thing”