Experience the best of New Zealand’s spectacular North Island

The South Island may have larger-than-life landscapes, but the North Island has a bit of everything. Discover the best of New Zealand’s North Island – with a taste of the South Island too – on this action-packed and well-rounded Kiwi adventure from Auckland to Christchurch. Soak up the summer vibes in the Bay of Islands with kayaking and stunning short walks; experience Waitomo’s glow worm-riddled caves; learn the ancient ways of the Maori people in geyser-rich Rotorua; hike the iconic Tongariro Crossing at Mt Ruapehu; visit Wellington’s superb Te Papa museum; explore Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park; and go dolphin and whale watching in Kaikoura. With so many options packed into this 12-day itinerary, this is the North Island at its finest.


Start
Auckland, New Zealand
Finish
Christchurch, New Zealand
Destination
New Zealand
Style
Original
Theme
Explorer, Wildlife
Code
PTONU
Physical rating
Ages
Min 12
Group size
Min 1, Max 15

Why you'll love this trip

  • Discover Waitomo's incredible limestone cave system, with night walks to see the glow worms – or better yet, some underground black-water rafting

  • Watch geysers erupt on traditional Maori lands in Rotorua, and take the Maori experience to the next level with an optional cultural performance and traditional hangi feast

  • This trip has plenty of spectacular waterfalls, but Huka Falls is one you’ll want to pack the camera for. Get up close and personal with this foaming blue powerhouse en route to Taupo

  • With two days in a cosy mountain lodge on Mt Ruapehu, you’ll have plenty of time to relax and unwind in the spa on either side of your unforgettable Tongariro Crossing Hike, New Zealand’s greatest walking trail

  • Te Papa Tongarewa is a highlight of Wellington, to say nothing of the city’s incredible spread of quality dining options. Learn the secrets of the Maori and stretch your mind on some modern works at Te Papa’s world-class Toi Art gallery

  • Hit the trails of Abel Tasman National Park, a small but stunning wilderness on the coast near sunny Nelson

  • Spot sperm whales and dolphin watching in Kaikoura, sure to be the highlight for lovers of marine life

Is this trip right for you?

  • The Tongariro Crossing is no walk in the park, so be prepared! It’s important to be in strong physical shape for this 20-kilometre hike, and some good wet weather apparel may well come in useful. This is the best hike in the country though, with scenery that’ll blow your mind, so rest assured it’s worth the effort.

Itinerary

Kia-ora! Welcome to New Zealand. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm – ask the hotel reception for the details. As soon as you arrive in this beautiful harbourside town you're surrounded by friendly locals, volcanoes, and a strong sense of Maoritanga (the Maori way of life). There is a distinct Pacific flavour to the 'City of Sails' and this can be seen in the streets and the local markets. The vibrant waterfront region, built to its current state for the America's Cup sailing challenges, is now a well-frequented local bar and restaurant hub. If you have extra time you can take a day trip to one of the many outer islands in the Hauraki Gulf, hike to one of the 22 nearby volcanoes, or keep it simple with a stroll and a coffee (the lively Ponsonby area is just a short walk away).
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Skytower, Auckland - NZD30
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Special Information
Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where tonight's welcome meeting will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.
Departing Auckland this morning, head north for the beautiful Bay of Islands (approximately 4 hours; 225 kilometres). There's some beautiful scenery along the way, so sit back and enjoy the rolling green hills as your leader explains a bit about this part of New Zealand and what's coming up on the journey ahead. There will be stops in small towns along the way so you can stretch your legs and grab a snack. Arriving in Paihia, where we'll spend the night, settle into your accommodation and enjoy the sea breeze. This afternoon is a good time to get to know your fellow travellers – perhaps over one of New Zealand's many renowned white wines or small-batch craft beers. It's also a good time to peruse the list of Bay of Islands optional activities, as there are plenty to choose from.
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Whether you're going kayaking under a waterfall, cruising in search of seabirds, taking photos from stunning lookout points, or exploring historic towns and sites, the Bay of Islands is a revelation. Cruising to some nearby islands, such as Roberton Island, is highly recommended – you'll get a sense of the area's rich history from local guides. The Bay of Islands is where the treaty of Waitangi was signed between 500 Maori chiefs and the British Crown, and a trip to the Treaty Grounds to learn more about this is well worth your time. Alternatively, Russell is a great spot to visit, with its excellent dining options and rich history. Russell used to be called the Hellhole of the North, because it was a seedy hangout for drunken sailors, back when it was the capital city; now it's a lovely seaside town full of history and atmosphere (look out for the gigantic Moreton Bay Fig Tree, planted in 1870).
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Boat Trip - Hole in Rock - NZD110
  • Kayak Tours - NZD79
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Embrace an early start as you make your way back down south, to Waitomo. We'll be travelling back through Auckland, crossing the harbour bridge for a fantastic view of the 'City of Sails'. After stopping for lunch in Auckland, continue to Waitomo, where you'll be staying right among the hills in a cosy mountain cabin. Waitomo is perhaps most famous for its limestone caves and stunning glow worms. Blackwater rafting in the caves may be possible as eary as this evening, and it's an unforgettable experience. If you choose this activity, you'll jump into  a wetsuit and descend with your local guide into a cave at dusk, and float along an underground stream in an old inflatable tyre tube (your trusty 'raft'). Along the way you'll see glow worms glittering along the walls of the cave. There's plenty of time for a warm shower and a nice meal afterwards. The local pub has quality food and an extensive local beer list (on tap), and the organic cafe nextdoor is superb.
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Waitomo - Caves Entrance
Optional Activities
  • Black Water Rafting from - NZD135
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
Total driving time today is around six and a half hours (approximately 420 km).
After spending some more time in Waitomo in the morning, head to Rotorua after lunch. In Rotorua we'll see geysers and boiling mud pools in an amazing display of mother earth's power. This all happens at Te Puia, The New Zealand Arts and Crafts Institute. The geysers here erupt regularly, and the Maori guides will show you around, explaining the significance of this land to their ancestors. You can also view a rare Kiwi bird here and learn more about New Zealand's great efforts to conserve them. Later, in the evening, there's the option of a traditional Maori Hangi dinner at Mitai Village, a Maori village where a troupe of perormers will dazzle with their tribal singining and dancing. Before you leave Rotorua, another great option is to go zip-lining through virgin native forest. There's a local company that doubles as a conservation initiative protecting the iconic Kiwi birds from predators. It's highly recommended, not just for the views but for the education too.
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Maori Cultural Evening - NZD80
  • River Rafting - NZD200
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information

Notes: Total driving time is around two hours (approximately 140kms).
Head south to Taupo, home of extreme sports on the North Island. On the way we visit the spectacular Huka Falls, a lush stream that cascades powerfully underneath a viewing bridge (this is one for the photographers). In Taupo there's the opportunity to go jet-boating, or simply relax by the world's biggest crater lake. We then drive on to Mt Ruapehu to get ready for our next day's activities. You're situated in the heart of the wilderness up here, in cosy lodgings with a spa and an excellent restaurant on site. It's a nice opportunity to relax before some hiking tomorrow.
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Rotorua - Te Puia Maori Art & Cultural Centre
Optional Activities
  • Mountain Biking - NZD60
  • Bungy Jumping from - NZD170
  • Jet Boating from - NZD120
  • Thermal Baths from - NZD15
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Special Information
Notes: Total driving time is around two and a half hours (approximately 180kms).
There are several options for today, the major one being the Tongariro Crossing. If you'd rather do something less rigorous, however, there are many shorter and easily accessible hikes on offer (see the reception at your lodge for more infomation). Those hiking the Tongariro Crossing – brace yourself for adventure. This is a full day hike and people should have a decent level of fitness to take it on. It's well worth the labour – it's considered NZ´s best one day hike and has fantastic views along the way, with crater lakes and majestic mountain landscapes to admire. It's not particularly easy though, so you'll want to be feeling well slept and in good physical shape for it.
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Tongariro Crossing - NZD35
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Departing the National Park we head through the central north island to the capital city, Wellington. With more eateries per capita than New York City, Wellington is a fantastic place for foodies to explore. It's also home to the world-class Te Papa Tongarewa museum, which we'll visit while we're here. As well as stunning Maori artifacts and contemporary art collections, the museum holds the largest specimen of colossal squid. Captured in 2007, it weighs in around 495 kg. In your free time, perhaps jump in the cable car to the Botanic Gardens for some spectacular views of Wellington city and harbour.

Notes: Total driving time is around four and a half hours (approximately 330kms).
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Wellington - Te Papa Museum
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Today we cross to the South Island on the inter island ferry and enjoy the incredible scenery of the Marlborough Sounds. While the Bay of Islands enjoys its 'Winterless North' tag, it's actually Nelson that enjoys the sunniest weather in all of New Zealand. We have a huge variety of activities to choose from here, including kayaking, boating, sailing in Abel Tasman National Park. Nelson is very picturesque, but also has plenty of great dining options and art galleries, so there's plenty more than just outdoor activities on offer.

Notes: Total driving time is around two hours (approximately 130kms).
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Scenic Cruise via Queen Charlotte Sounds
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.
Today is a great opportunity to visit Abel Tasman National Park (optional). Its bushwalking tracks, weaving among the gorgeous inlets and coves, are just begging to be explored, and a ride in a water taxi is spectacular. Have plenty of space left on your memory card as there won't be any shortage of photo opportunities. Abel Tasman National Park is actually New Zealand's smallest national park, but that's one of the great things about it. It's easy to relax on the beach, go kayaking among the seabirds (gannets, blue penguins, cormorants), or dive straight into a brisk walk in the forest. There's an interesting old Maori fortress to check out too.
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Optional Activities
  • Kayak Tour from - NZD140
  • Abel Tasman National Park - Free
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner
Leaving Nelson, we head for the beautiful coastline of Kaikoura where many adventures await. Perhaps best of all is the whale and dolphin watching. For many travellers this will be a highlight of the trip, and the chances of making sightings are quite high. Also keep an eye out for petrels, New Zealand fur seals, and dolphins. Other optional activities include swimming with dolphins, fishing, and albatross-viewing tours. If you want to really take the adventure up a notch, scenic flights are also possible. In the evening, consider trying the excellent local seafood, such as crayfish. After all, you're in the town named after it ('kai' means food and 'koura' means crayfish).

Notes: Total driving time is around four hours (approximately 240kms).
Accommodation
  • Lodge (1 night)
Included Activities
  • Kaikoura Seal Colony
Optional Activities
  • Whale Watching - NZD155
Meals Included
  • Breakfast
Travel on to Christchurch, where the adventure finishes at approximately 6 pm.

Notes: Total driving time is around three hours (approximately 160kms).
Optional Activities
  • Dolphin Swim - NZD170
  • Whale Watching - NZD155
Meals Included
There are no meals included on this day.

Meals

8 breakfasts, 2 dinners

Transport

Ferry, Van

Accommodation

Lodge (11 nights)

Included activities

  • Waitomo - Caves Entrance
  • Rotorua - Te Puia Maori Art & Cultural Centre
  • Wellington - Te Papa Museum
  • Scenic Cruise via Queen Charlotte Sounds
  • Kaikoura Seal Colony

Dates & availability

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Important notes

1. Tour commences in Auckland with group meeting on day 1 at 6:00pm and finishes on arrival in Christchurch on day 12 at approx 6PM. Please take this into consideration when booking any onward flights. We recommend you book accommodation in advance and extend your stay. 2. A single supplement is available on this trip. 3. Trip runs in reverse, see tour code PTOA. 4. Allow NZD 470 for meals not included.

Essential trip information

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Essential Trip Information provides a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what's included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

Reviews

Our New Zealand North Island Explorer (ex Auckland) trips score an average of 4.73 out of 5 based on 26 reviews in the last year.

New Zealand North Island Explorer (ex Auckland), February 2018

Jennifer Thompson

New Zealand North Island Explorer (ex Auckland), February 2018

Alma Herselman