The North Island of New Zealand is often overshadowed by the pristine alpine scenery of the South, but its stunning beaches, boiling mud pools and otherworldly neon lakes definitely don’t fall behind. Not to mention it offers far more opportunities to experience the Maori culture. To get the most out of your trip, follow my road trip style New Zealand North Island itinerary below! 

It includes the best places to see and things to do in New Zealand’s North Island with all ages and fitness levels in mind, and is designed for those (nature lovers) who want to explore the country on their own, either by a camper van or a car — by far the best way to see New Zealand. 

new zealand north island rolling green hills with an ocean view landscape

Since I was traveling with my parents, who wanted more comfort a camper van would offer, we opted for a car and home stays (perfect to experience authentic kiwi lifestyle and make local friends), with a few hotels sprinkled in between. All of our personal New Zealand North Island accommodation picks are listed in the itinerary, but if you’re on a tighter budget, I’d recommend hostel stays or a camper van instead.

Renting a car in New Zealand is super easy. You just book it in advance and pick it up from the airport (see rental car options available for Auckland airport), then drop it off at the end of your road trip at the same or different location (even on the other side of the island). 

You’ll need 9 days to explore the North Island following my itinerary. In case you’re lucky enough to have a couple of extra days to spare, I’ve also put in some additional sight-seeing suggestions. The more, the better when it comes to New Zealand attractions! I could easily spend 6 months exploring this beautiful part of the world. It’s actually bigger than it seems and involves quite a lot of driving if you want to see it in only a few weeks, but the views along the way make up for it for sure!

auckland new zealand port

Day 1: Auckland

Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest city and has your typical city centre with plenty of shopping, dining and entertainment options. But just a hop and a skip away there’s a whole different world out there – beaches, islands, vineyards… You could spend days or even weeks in the area, however, for the heart of the city itself, I don’t think you don’t need more than a day. 


After a walk around the main part of the city, head out to Devonport, a charming seaside village just a 12-minute ferry ride away from Downtown Auckland (16 NZD adult return). The ferry ride itself offers great views of the city skyline, but as always, the best view comes after the climb! For a truly spectacular harbour panorama, walk up to Mount Victoria (Takarunga), an 87 metre high volcano and a former Māori pā (defence settlement). 

It’s only a 30-minute walk from the ferry terminal and hard to miss if you stick to the main road. Just follow the road all the way up and don’t make the mistake we did – blindly following the tourists in front who decided to take a “shortcut”, which ended up being a very steep treacherous climb. Thankfully, we didn’t repeat the same mistake on the way down! 

On top of Mount Victoria you can also see one of New Zealand’s few remaining disappearing guns, a signal station and a whole bunch of painted “mushrooms”. These mushroom sculptures are actually the vents for a water pumping station underneath the surface of the volcano. 

On the way back, spend some time browsing cute little boutiques, stop at one of many coffee shops or even swing by one of Devonport’s beaches. The ferry leaves every 20-30 minutes, so you can be spontaneous.

cityscape view of auckland from devonport


Do you think the views from Mount Victoria won’t be enough for you? Mount Eden (Maungawhau), a dormant volcano with a bowl-like crater on the other side of the city, or the iconic Sky Tower are also great vantage points. If walking on a 1.2 metre wide platform 192 metres above the ground or jumping off of it sounds like your idea of fun, you can even book a SkyWalk (150 NZD) or a SkyJump (225 NZD)!

Where to Eat in Auckland

For a sweet treat, stop at Giapo. It isn’t your regular ice-cream shop, but an experience complete with ice-cream tasting and sculpture-like gelato creations you can actually order and eat – selfie cone, anyone?! Maybe overpriced in some people’s eyes, but no regrets on my part. I mean, if it’s good enough for Cher, you bloody believe it’s good enough for me! Jokes aside, the gelato I had was actually amazing, so no, not overhyped. Do expect to queue and not be able to sit down, though – the place is popular and unexpectedly small!

An Italian restaurant called Gusto at the Grand was another great find – I swear I totally hit the Auckland food jackpot! It wasn’t even on our agenda, but it was getting late and since it was located right next to our hotel, we just went for it. And thank god we did! The ricotta gnocchi with mushrooms I had there were glorious. I still count it as one of the top 5 meals I’ve had in my life. A+ for the friendliest service and beautiful flower-adorned ceiling lights too. 

giapo strawberry gelato in auckland
giapo selfie cone gelato in auckland

Where to Stay in Auckland

SKYCITY Hotel Auckland has the most convenient downtown location (literally right next to the Sky Tower) to explore the main part of the city without having to take the car out of the garage. Driving in another country and most likely on the opposite side of the road you’re used to is stressful enough. You don’t necessarily want to throw the big city traffic, intersections and confusing one way lanes into the mix right off the bat. Getting to the hotel from the airport is tricky enough!

One note: While the location of the hotel and very comfortable, spacious rooms deserve all the praise, for an expensive 4-star hotel, the breakfast buffet was far from great – burnt pastry, rock solid french toast… Just thought I would give you a heads-up in case you’re planning to stay for longer!

auckland sky tower
bay of islands new zealand

Day 2: Bay of Islands

Thanks to its subtropical climate, sandy beaches and abundant marine life, the Bay of Islands is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the country, but also full of important historic sites. This was the first area in New Zealand settled by Europeans and where the historic agreement between the Māori and the British was signed.

Matapouri Bay or Waipoua Kauri Forest

The drive from Auckland to the Bay of Islands takes almost 5 hours, so definitely spice up your journey and make a quick detour or two. If you’re a beach bum, I suggest you to stop at Matapouri Bay (three hours in) for some vitamin D or even a dip in the sea! The sea is very calm there, perfect for swimming, and during the summer time typical water temperatures go up to 20-22°C, which is as good as it gets in New Zealand.

Another option is a journey up the western coast with a stop at Waipoua Kauri Forest. Before the arrival of Europeans, now protected kauri trees used to cover almost an entire region of Northland. They’re native to New Zealand and are among the world’s oldest and biggest. At Waipoua you can actually see the largest living kauri tree in the world, Tāne Mahuta, just a five minute walk from the road. It is also known as ‘the lord of the forest’ and is a sacred Māori site, as it plays a massive role in the Māori story of creation.

P.S. Kauri trees are currently threatened by dieback disease, a rot that is often carried on people’s shoes. To help reduce the spread, please stay away from kauri tree roots and clean the soil off of your shoes before entering the forest.

Paihia, Waitangi 

Spend the rest of the day in Paihia, a small but lively seaside town. We only had time to walk along the waterfront and grab some dinner, as we had to take a longer route due to a car accident on the highway, but if you arrive with plenty of time to spare, head up a few kilometres north to Waitangi. This is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the Māori and the British Crown. 

At  Waitangi Treaty Grounds you can learn about these historical events and the Māori culture itself by taking a guided (50 minutes) or self-guided tour through the grounds. For the full experience including a live cultural performance (30 minutes) and a visit to two museums you’ll need about 3-4 hours, but I have some great news! The Waitangi Experience Pass (adult international 50 NZD, adult NZ 25 NZD) is valid for two consecutive days, so if you run out of time, you can simply visit the site again the following morning. 


Total drive time: 4 hours 30 min

Total drive distance: 279 km

matapouri bay beach in new zealand
new zealand north island activities
new zealand bay of islands birdlife

Where to Eat in Paihia

Pizza Shack was one of the very few places on the beachfront still open when we made it for dinner. It looked like a typical fast food joint, but I was pleasantly surprised.The ‘Big Salmon’ pizza with creamy garlic sauce, mozzarella, asparagus, smoked salmon and cream cheese that I ordered was a winner! 

Where to Stay in Paihia

Morepork Riverside Lodge is conveniently located just 10 km from central Paihia, but in a quiet, rural setting, so you can truly relax there. If you can, definitely stay for longer than just a day or two. The owners Paul and Barbara couldn’t have been better hosts. They went above and beyond to make us feel welcome and comfortable. 

They had extra toothbrushes, sunscreen, bug spray and beach towels ready for us to use free of charge, as well as fresh eggs from their free range chickens and delicious, proper bread for breakfast. Toast is the usual breakfast standard in New Zealand, so it felt like a proper luxury after not having any for weeks prior (we were exploring the South Island before hitting the North). Oh, and they even gave us a fridge magnet as a keepsake! It’s always the little things for me.

The rooms were lovely and spacious with a balcony looking onto their massive, neat garden full of trees, flowers and the Waitangi River flowing by. So serene! And wait for it… they have alpacas too!! This is actually where my mom’s obsession first started.

Update: Paul and Barbara have unfortunately moved and sold Morepork Riverside Lodge, but I’m keeping this suggestion up just in case the new owners pick up from where they left of. It would be a shame not to! 

morepork riverside lodge garden in paihia
morepork riverside lodge alpaca in paihia
new zealand north island itinerary road trip

Day 3: Cape Reinga Day Trip (Bay of Islands)

Cape Reinga

Cape Reinga (Te Rerenga Wairua) is the second northernmost point of New Zealand and where the spirits of deceased Māori start their journey back to their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki. There’s an easy 10-minute walk full of breathtaking views that takes you from the big parking lot to the iconic lighthouse, where you can even see the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean colliding. It’s a truly special place! From Paihia the drive to Cape Reinga will take you approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes one way, but on the way back give yourself plenty of time for the scenic stops below. 

A little tip: If you’re visiting in the summer, make sure to carry some water with you (it was very humid when we went) and cover yourself in insect repellent. There’s so many blood-thirsty mosquitoes out there!  

ocean view from cape reinga new zealand
cape reinga lighthouse in new zealand
tasman sea and pacific ocean colliding at cape reinga new zealand

Te Paki Sand Dunes 

New Zealand doesn’t hold back when it comes to the variety of landscapes. You can even find sand dunes! They’re the last thing you would expect in the middle of rolling green hills of the North Island, but they’re a truly fun surprise! At Te Paki Giant Sand Dunes, only a 5-minute drive from Cape Reinga, you can rent a body board (15 NZD) and give sand surfing a go or simply walk to the top for some epic views. It’s quite a steep climb and the sand can get scorching hot in the summer, so it’s best to have running shoes or at least socks on, but you’ll most likely need to go barefoot at the very start, as you do have to cross a little stream. 

te paki sand dunes new zealand

Ninety Mile Beach

Ninety Mile Beach on the western coast is actually an official highway – possibly the most unique highway in the world –  but unless you have your own 4WD vehicle or join an organised tour, you’ll have to skip it. The sand is tricky to drive on as it is, and due to tides you can only drive at specific times, so rental companies don’t allow their cars there for safety reasons. Having said that, you can drive down to Rarawa Beach on the opposite side of the peninsula and see some beach action there!

Rarawa Beach

You can find Rarawa Beach 40 minutes south of Cape Reinga or Te Paki Sand Dunes. It’s just a short walk away from the parking area and looks more than picture-perfect with its fine white sand, an open ocean view and a creek running down the edge. I was really surprised barely anyone was there. Apart from an occasional car or a motorbike passing by, it was practically free from visitors!

car driving on rarawa beach new zealand
rarawa beach north island new zealand
rarawa beach road trip north island new zealand

Matauri Bay

I’m a proper beach bum, so we also ended up driving to Matauri Bay later in the day. Its crystal clear water and golden sand beach with a view of Cavalli Islands make it great for swimming, snorkeling or even surfing when the conditions are right. Again, no major crowds there! 


Total drive time: 5-6 hours

Total drive distance: 400 km

Where to Eat in the Bay of Islands

The 70-year-old Mangonui Fish Shop was recommended to us by our host Paul. It’s located right  between Rarawa Beach and Matauri Bay, in Mangonui, a fishing village with a rich fishing tradition. The restaurant is famous for their fish and chips (they get fresh, locally caught fish from the Mangonui Wharf only 100 metres away) and is built over the water, which adds to the atmosphere. 

mangonui fish shop new zealand
new zealand fish and chips

Optional Extra Day in the Bay of Islands

Day cruises are one of the most popular activities in the Bay of Islands. Hole in the Rock Dolphin Cruise (adult 120 NZD) takes you along the Rakaumangamanga Peninsula to Cape Brett, where you can see the Hole in the Rock, which Māori warriors used to paddle through in their canoes before departing for battle, as drops of water from the cave roof above were considered a good omen. The cruise also includes an island stopover at Otehei Bay and gives you an opportunity to spot some dolphins or even whales! It sets off daily or even twice a day on weekends from both Paihia and Russell. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, you can also join the Cream Trip Cruise (adult 135 NZD). It includes all of the above plus boom-netting, and follows the original Cream Trip route, delivering mail and supplies to island residents on the way.

new zealand north island beach

Day 4: Bay of Islands to Coromandel

Another day of driving ahead! To get from Paihia to Coromandel, you’ll need 5-6 hours, so again, schedule a few stops in between to stretch your legs and rest your eyes. If you haven’t yet, you can check out Matapouri Bay or Waipoua Kauri Forest.

Whangarei Falls

Whangarei Falls (Otuihau) is also a great option. There’s a short circular walk taking you around this picturesque waterfall falling over basalt cliffs, so you can admire it from all different angles. And there’s a picnic spot too – perfect for lunch!

Hot Water Beach

Try to make it to Coromandel before low tide (check the tides HERE) and drive to Hot Water Beach. There’s a hot spring running beneath the beach and if you dig a hole in the sand at low tide, you can create yourself a natural jacuzzi! You can rent a shovel from one of the nearby cafes for 5 NZD. 

P.S. The water that comes up to the surface is very hot, so make sure to mix it with ocean water before dipping in.

P.P.S. Hot Water Beach is very busy and not quite the serene experience you may imagine, but it’s still fun to see! 


Total drive time: 5 hours 30 min

Total drive distance: 395 km

hot water beach in coromandel new zealand

Where to Stay in Coromandel

We stayed with Judy and Gerard at Jacaranda Lodge. I really enjoyed having breakfast outside on their patio, and there were wild bunnies jumping around across the street, which totally made my day. Having said that, it wasn’t the most convenient place to stay at for us. It’s an hour away from the sights we had on our agenda, on the opposite side of the peninsula, so it added a few extra hours of driving to our trip. If you’ll only be visiting Hot Water Beach (and Cathedral Cove), I would book somewhere closer. 

Optional Extra Day in Coromandel

If you’re staying in Coromandel for one more day, you can also visit Hot Water Beach on your extra day and combine it with a trip to the nearby Cathedral Cove. 

Cathedral Cove

I’m sure you’ve seen an image of Cathedral Cove before — a sandy beach with a view of the rock rising out of the ocean perfectly framed by the cliffs  postcard material at its best! Unfortunately this real-life movie scene is accessible only via a 2 hour return walk or a boat, so you can’t just swing by for a few minutes. 

You can park at the Visitor Car Park on Pa Road in Hanei, where a summer shuttle service (adult retun 5 NZD) runs to and from the start of the Cathedral Cove track during the summer months. Before you head out, make sure to have enough water and food with you, as there’s nowhere to get it on the way or at Cathedral Cove itself. 

Alternatively, you can grab a water taxi from Hanei Beach, which takes 10 minutes (pick-up and drop-off every 30 minutes) and costs 15 NZD each way, or book an hour long boat tour (adult 105 NZD) to take you around the area, including a hidden blowhole. 

P.S. The water taxi operates from October until May, is dependent on sea conditions and can get very busy, so you can’t exactly count on it. 

Day 5: Waitomo, Rotorua

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

I would’t normally recommend you to go out of your way to see worms, but worms with glow-in-the-dark butts? Now that’s something you can’t miss! Glowworms are actually larvae of mosquito-like insects. They look like dangling strings of spiderweb, but when the lights go out, all you can see are glowing blueish lights. 

Glowworms can be spotted in many caves across New Zealand, but Waitomo Caves is the most popular spot. Touristy? Yes. But you do get a proper “light show”, and since you have to book your slot in advance, there’s no overcrowding. The Waitomo Glowworm Caves hour-long tour (55 NZD adult) includes a short walk through the cave and a boat ride through the glowworm grotto, which is a pretty magical experience. It feels as if you’re floating under the sky of a thousand neon stars! You just have to forget there’s actual larvae dangling above you…

Kuirau Park

You’ll smell Rotorua before you see it! The area is bursting with geothermal activity and one of the first places you can see it in action is the public Kuirau Park. There’s bubbling mud pools, steamy hot spring and you can even take a thermal foot bath. All for free!

Whakarewarewa Forest (The Redwoods)

5 minutes south of downtown Rotorua is a forest full of towering Californian Coast Redwoods (sequoias). You can admire the giants from down below by taking one of many walking tracks (free) or from a bit higher up on a 40-minute Redwoods Treewalk (35 NZD adult) that takes you through 28 suspension bridges 20 metres above the ground. I personally think the trees look way more majestic from the ground, but it’s definitely a fun activity to do, especially in the nighttime – for Redwoods Nightlights (35 NZD adult) they illuminate the walkway and turn on 30 dreamy lanterns!


Total drive time: 5 hours

Total drive distance: 373 km

Flemington Lake View B&B new zealand
Whakarewarewa Forest new zealand

Where to Stay in Rotorua

Flemington Lake View B&B was by far one of the best properties I’ve ever stayed at. My dream house, basically. Located in an upscale community, it provides a proper luxury experience with comfy, spacious en suites, endless lounge areas, and a spectacular view over Lake Rotorua. The owner Curley is such a gem too! He happily lets you use his laundry room with a washing machine and a dryer, and makes THE BEST eggs Benedict in the morning. Breakfasts are cooked to order and you can choose anything under the sun, but please do try his eggs Benedict. You won’t regret it. 

Flemington Lake View B&B rotorua

Day 6: Thermal Wonders, Kiwis and Māori in Rotorua

This was possibly my favourite day on the North Island. A mix of nature, wildlife and cultural experiences makes my heart sing opera. And almost no driving this time! 

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

A 20 minute drive out of Rotorua, you enter a different planet. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland may not be the nicest smelling place to visit (major rotten egg smell alert), but it’s a feast for the eyes! Think neon lakes, bubbling mud, steaming ground and geysers. I was walking around with my mouth wide open the whole time — and not just because I was trying not to breathe through my nose. A visit to this out-of-this-world geothermal park in a collapsed volcanic crater will cost you 23.50 NZD and take 2-3 hours. I suggest you arrive at the Lady Knox Geyser parking site by 10:00 am, so you can catch its daily 10:15 am eruption, then continue to the main geothermal area. 

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, Rotorua, New Zealand
Lady Knox Geyser, Rotorua, New Zealand
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland neon green pond

Rainbow Springs Wildlife and Nature Park (National Kiwi Hatchery)

Since New Zealand’s Kiwi birds are hard to spot in the wild, the National Kiwi Hatchery at Rainbow Springs in Rotorua is one of the best places to see these adorable nocturnal creatures and learn more about them. As only 5% of kiwi birds hatched in the wild actually make it to adulthood due to predators, the National Kiwi Hatchery functions a conservation facility. They incubate and hatch over 130 kiwi chicks every year, and you can come see them during the hatching season from September to March (45 NZD adult). During the rest of the year, only a couple of resident adult kiwis can be seen. 

Te Pā Tū (Tamaki Māori Village)

Another unmissable activity on your New Zealand trip (I really can’t recommend it enough) is the Te Pā Tū Māori experience (245 NZD adult). This 4-hour affair introduces you to all sorts of Māori traditions like their songs, stories, and the famous haka war dance, and wraps up with dinner. When I visited, we had a traditional hangi feast cooked in the ground, using heated rocks buried in a pit oven, but now they’re doing a fancier, three-course dinner with Māori fusion dishes developed by celebrated Māori chefs.

kiwi sign new zealand
Te Pā Tū Tamaki Māori Village haka

Day 7: Lake Taupo, Napier

Lake Taupō is a large crater lake also called the great inland sea of New Zealand. It’s massive with plenty of things to do all around — trout fishing, hiking, relaxing in hot pools… As we were just passing by, we couldn’t give them a go, but we did check out Huka Falls.

Huka Falls 

Some are pretty, some are tall and some are powerful. Waterfalls, I mean. Huka Falls check the very last box. When the Waikato River, New Zealand’s longest river, hits a shallow ravine of hard volcanic rock, you get 220,000 litres of water per second blasting by. To illustrate, the flow rate of water would fill an Olympic swimming pool in just 11 seconds. A display of natural hydro power like no other! You can see it action from a foot bridge for free (there’s walking paths all around), or get really up close with a jet boat. 

Where to Eat in Taupo

I would never recommend any traveller to eat at McDonald’s (a huge fan of local food and small businesses over here), but this one is different. It has a decommissioned DC3 plane with seating on site, and yes, you can actually eat inside. Definitely the coolest McDonald’s in the world. Oh, and they have a special New Zealand item — Kiwiburger. Their take on the classic New Zealand hamburger with a quarter-pound beef patty, egg, lettuce, tomato, beetroot, onion, ketchup and mustard.

huka falls taupo new zealand
taupo airplane mcdonalds
the coolest mcdonalds in the world taupo airplane


If I had to pick my favourite town in New Zealand, it would have to be Napier. Its Art Deco architecture transports you straight back to 1930s. You literally feel like you’re in an Old Hollywood movie! The reason Napier was build in this style was due to an earthquake destroying the entire centre of the town back in 1931, and once they started rebuilding it, the new buildings reflected the architectural styles of the times. To check it out, we took ourselves on a self-guided walk. You can’t miss the Daily Telegraph building on Tennyson Street, the Emerson Street, the Hasting Street and the National Tobacco Company building. 

P.S. If you love wine, this region is famous for their pinot gris and syrah. You can spend an extra day in the area going on a wine tour, or simply try some at a local restaurant with your dinner.


Total drive time: 3 hours

Total drive distance: 222 km

Where to Stay in Napier

We stayed with the lovely Sally and her husband at their Ashcroft Gardens Bed & Breakfast. Super close to the centre of Napier, but in a semi-rural setting. I felt very homey and definitely had zero complains over their large swimming pool surrounded by a beautiful blooming garden. I wish we stayed longer just for that! If you book with them, say hi to Sugar and Spice (the cats) for me! 

napier art deco architecture new zealand
new zealand shepherd dogs

Day 8: Wellington 

Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and the second-largest city in the country,  but it doesn’t have that big city feel like Auckland does. It’s surrounded by nature and has a trendy casual dining scene. 

Wellington Cable Car or Mount Victoria Lookout

We started our Wellington adventure with an iconic 5-minute cable car ride from the heart of the city centre to Kelburn hill (9 NZD return), past terraced houses and through tunnels with unexpected but fun LED light installations. At the top, you’re greeted with panoramic views of Wellington City and its harbour, Cable Car Museum, Space Place (Carter Observatory) and a public Botanic Garden, which is the one we ended up checking out — it was so nice to stretch our legs after another long drive!

Alternatively, you can head over to another great lookout nearby — Mount Victoria. It offers 360 degree views and is accessible by car or bus via Alexandra Road. There’s also walking tracks, which take you through historic pine forests (2.6 km, 1 hr 30 min walking time), but the climb is apparently quite steep. 

wellington new zealand view from kelburn hill
wellington cable car
wellington botanic garden

Wellington’s Cuba Street

Cuba Street, one of Wellington’s most loved and vibrant streets, is a fun place to stop for a bite, do some vintage shopping, discover quirky cafés and check out art installations like the famous Bucket Fountain. 

Wellington Waterfront

Who doesn’t like to end their day with a stroll on the waterside? Wellington Waterfront is a public recreation area with heritage trails, numerous artworks and sculptures, some street performers and plenty of placed to eat and drink.


Total drive time: 4 hours

Total drive distance: 320 km

P.S. On the way from Napier to Wellington, you can also make a pit stop at Dannevirke, a town famous for its Scandinavian heritage, and Martinborough, for its colonial charm and pinot noir.

wellington pop up village

Where to Eat in Wellington

With so many trendy food spots around (they even have glow-in-the-dark gelato), it’s really hard to choose where to actually eat in Wellington. I’m a major foodie and wish I had weeks to just explore the Wellington food scene. 

With ten restaurants on my list, we eventually ended up at The Crab Shack, as it was right on the waterfront and had a no-booking policy. Many other places were fully booked in advance or closed, as we were there right after the new year. Loved it! If you’re a fan of American diner style seafood and a relaxed, beachy atmosphere, that’s the place for you. 

Where to Stay in Wellington

We stayed at Pacific View B&B in a quiet suburban area, a 5-minute drive from Wellington Airport and a 15-minute drive from the city centre. While the place was perfectly nice, with amazing views of the Barrett Reef from the dining area, we kept get getting lost on the way back from the city, which wasn’t a pleasant experience. Generally, Wellington was not the easiest city to drive around, so if I were to pick our accommodation again, I would book a place in the heart of the city and just walk everywhere.

the crab shack wellington mac and cheese

Day 9: Wellington (to Picton)

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

I’m not a huge museum goer, but I’m really glad I stopped at Wellington’s Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa). One of the biggest and best I’ve visited, with lots of interactive elements. You can easily spend half of your day in there — we have. There’s exhibitions on New Zealand’s unique nature, immersive rooms that take you through the country’s history, precious Māori treasures, the national art collection… And the best part? All long-term exhibitions are totally free to see!

wellington waterfront piano

Wellington to Picton Ferry

If you have enough time to continue your New Zealand adventure on the South Island, take the Interislander or Bluebridge ferry to Picton on the other side of the Cook Strait. It takes about 3 and a half hours, but the beautiful scenery along the way make the journey seem shorter — unless the waves are rough and you tend to get sea sick. I’ve heard crossing the strait can be interesting at times. We lucked out and had a super smooth sea. 

Ferry ticket prices vary, but typically start at 70 NZD per person (one way, without a vehicle). If you’re renting a car, you can usually drop it off at the ferry terminal in Wellington, then pick another one up at the Picton terminal, or the other way around. This is what we’ve done, and it was seamless! 

wellington to picton ferry views

AND BREATHE. You’ve finally reached the end of my New Zealand North Island itinerary. Can I just say, I’m jealous of you already— you’ll have a blast down there! Especially if you’re combining this North Island adventure with a South Island road trip. And don’t forget: Cook Islands (a.k.a. Polynesian paradise on Earth) are the easiest to fly to from Auckland. If you’ll be extending your New Zealand travels with a trip to the paradise, follow this North Island itinerary from the bottom up — start in Wellington and wrap your trip in Auckland, as Auckland Airport is where you can travel from to Rarotonga. And yes, I have a Rarotonga vacation guide as well on my blog. 😉

Have you found my New Zealand North Island itinerary helpful? Please consider leaving me a tip of your choice, so I can keep this blog going and help you with even more free travel advice! 

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