Located on the other side of the world (at least for me), New Zealand has always been on my bucket list. That is why I am so excited to share my full New Zealand North island travel guide including a 1-week itinerary starting from Auckland airport. Within this route, you will be able to see all the main geothermal activities of the North Island.
Indeed, if you want to experience geothermal activities such as geysers, mud pools, or hot springs, and above all, want to live in harmony with nature, New Zealand North Island is definitely for you!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
When to visit New Zealand north island?
New Zealand is a country with four distinct seasons but they are the opposite of the ones we know in Europe.
- December to February is summer
- March to May is autumn
- June to August is winter
- September to November is spring
That is to say, the rainiest period of the year is from May to August. In addition to the high rain level, there is even snow in some parts of New Zealand (the country is also well-known for skiing actually). Consequently, if your goal is not to hit the ski slopes of New Zealand, I would strongly recommend avoiding this time of the year.
Moreover, New Zealand is one of the most humid places on Earth, so I highly suggest visiting New Zealand during summer or at the beginning of autumn. However, note that the locals (called kiwis) have their summer holidays between December and January. Accordingly, accommodations become notably more expensive and quickly sold out. Hence, I advise you to avoid these two busy months and rather visit New Zealand between February and March.
“As per my experience, you could very well have all four seasons in a single day. Therefore, I highly recommend you take appropriate clothes in your suitcase. You never know!“
Best way to travel around New Zealand North island?
From my standpoint, the most common and funniest way to explore New Zealand is by van. With this means of transportation, you will have the freedom to discover the country at your pace!
Above all, New Zealand offers a lot of campsites of all types ranging from free but basic to payable but full of amenities. Different apps like Ranker camping NZ and Wikicamp can help you locate them easily.
If you decide to stay in a free campsite, which usually doesn’t include any facilities, you must have a self-contained vehicle. In other words, you must have a toilet on board.
Along with the multiple campsite possibilities, different types of rentals, from a car with a futon to the most amazing camping car, are available. Therefore, it depends on the budget you have. The only advice I can give you from my own experience is that having a good night’s sleep is necessary if you want to enjoy your journey to the fullest. Thus, I recommend reading the reviews and choosing the type that best suits your needs. Considering our van was in very bad shape and too small for two big people like us, we had to book hotel rooms a few times during our road trip to recharge our batteries.
Last but not least, nearly all rental companies offer free transfers from/to the main airports. Also, to avoid driving back, you can drop off the vehicle at another location by paying an additional fee.
“Keep in mind long travel distances, as kiwis used to say: “Roads in New Zealand are different and can be tricky.“
What to do in New Zealand north island?
Throughout this section, I share with you my ultimate New Zealand travel guide with a 1-week itinerary from Auckland. Within this route, you will be able to visit the most incredible places to enjoy geothermal wonders!
On a side note, if you have more time ahead of you, you should read my ultimate New Zealand travel guide here.
Day 1 - Auckland
After the longest journey, my husband and I have ever done (26 hours of flight), we finally touched down in New Zealand and we couldn’t be more excited!
Since it was our first time driving a camper van (and on the left side of the road), we decided not to drive into Auckland city and headed directly to Rotorua. Our first impression of the country was already so great and we couldn’t wait to discover more in the following days!
“I deeply advise you to take it easy for your first day by either staying in Auckland to discover the city or by heading directly to the next stop.“
Day 2 & 3 - Rotorua
Rotorua is mainly well-known for its geothermal activity. Indeed, the particularity of the region is undoubtedly the energy of its ground which creates geysers, hot springs, and mud pools. In addition, the city is easily recognizable by its strong smell of Sulfur. Moreover, Rotorua is without a doubt a must-see of the North Island since the place offers notably various geothermal attractions.
Lake top 10 Holiday Park
NZD $ 55 per night for a power site (for 2 people)
Auckland airport to Rotorua - 3:00 hours
From my standpoint, Redwood’s tree walk is one of the highlights of Rotorua. In other words, you shouldn’t miss this amazing attraction located in an impressive native sequoias forest.
Briefly, the redwoods tree walk is a walk 700 meters long that sits at around 20 meters above the ground. Also, the promenade is self-guided and not limited in time which allows you to stop whenever you want to enjoy, relax, and immortalize the moment.
Additionally, if you want to add more magic to this wild experience, you should visit the tree walk during nighttime.
- Duration: 1 hour
- Price: NZD $ 30 per adult, free parking spaces at the entrance
Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley
Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley is the heart of the Rotorua region and you will be in awe of its beauty and power. To begin with, the park is easily accessible with your transportation or with a local shuttle bus from Rotorua city center.
In my own opinion, if you want to appreciate the valley to its fullest and get a great overall picture of the place, I advise you to book a full-experience tour that includes notably a cruise. The journey starts with an easy 2-hour walk surrounded by geothermal phenomena along the way. Afterward, a 45-minute cruise takes place on Rotomahana lake, where you can see geysers for instance. Finally, once the cruise is over, there is a free shuttle available that takes you back to the entrance if you don’t feel like hiking the way back.
- Duration: 3 hours (with shuttle option)
- Price: NZD $ 85 per adult for the full experience ticket, free parking spaces at the entrance
Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland
As its name indicates, Wai-o-tapu thermal wonderland is a geothermal wonderland. Without exaggeration, this place is the most colorful attraction that I have ever experienced so far. In brief, the site is composed of three zones: the geothermal ground called Wai-o-tapu, the mud pools, and the geysers. Furthermore, the park is a self-guided hike that allows you to walk at your own pace and stop whenever you want.
Also, it’s important to know that the famous geyser called Lady Knox, only erupts once a day at 10:30 am (it’s rangers that trigger it). Consequently, if you want to see it, you should visit the park in the morning.
- Duration: 1:30 hours
- Price: NZD $ 32.50 per adult, free parking spaces at the entrance
“In comparison to Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley, I have to say that Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland feels more tourist. Therefore, if you don’t have the time or the budget to visit both places, I strongly recommend choosing Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley which will give you a more authentic experience.“
Day 4 & 5 - Taupo
Taupo is not only the heart of geothermal activities but also home to the largest lake in New Zealand. In addition, the region is perfect to combine less crowded geothermal attractions (compare to the ones in Rotorua) and water adventures such as kayaking on Waikato river or Taupo lake.
Wairakei Thermal Valley Campground
NZD $ 48 per night for a power site (for 2 people)
Rotorua to Taupo - 1:00 hour
Orakai Korako is a less-known geothermal and tropical wonderland since it is located a bit far away from the main road. Additionally, the landscape is quite different from the other places mentioned below due to the tropical rainforest surrounding it. Moreover, Orakai Korako is only accessible by a 3-minute boat ride (included in the ticket price), which makes the place even more preserved.
- Duration: 1:30 hours
- Price: NZD $ 35 per adult, free parking spaces at the entrance
Crater of the moon
The Crater of the moon is doubtlessly a place out of the world. Indeed, the park is filled with hot springs and geysers that can be seen through an easy and flat 45-minute hiking loop.
- Duration: 45 minutes
- Price: NZD $ 8 per adult, free parking spaces at the entrance
Kayaking on Waikoto river
Alright, I believe you shouldn’t leave Taupo without going on a kayak adventure! This is the reason why we decided to take part in a guided tour of the Waikato River’s crystal-clear water. For that, nothing easier than putting our swimsuits on, and here we go, ready to paddle down the river! Most of all, the guided tour takes us to a free hot spring (known only by locals) to relax.
Day 6 & 7 - Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National park is in the center of New Zealand North Island where is located the active volcano of the same name. In other words, the park is home to the famous Tongariro Alpine crossing trail so, be ready for a challenging but unforgettable adventure!
Discovery Lodge Tongariro
NZD $ 55 per night for a power site (for 2 people)
Taupo to Tongariro - 1:30 hours
Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail
Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail is a trek of 19,8 kilometers of pure wonders located in the National Park. Firstly, as the trail is not a hiking loop and there is a 4-hour parking restriction in place at both ends, I don’t recommend taking your private vehicle. Instead, you should rather take shuttles to and from the trail.
This is why you should book accommodation the day before the hike that offers a shuttle service. Indeed, our camping Discovery Lodge Tongariro, located 20 minutes away from the starting point, offers one upon request for an additional fee. Moreover, we selected this campsite because they were one of the earliest to leave for the trek (around 5:00 am).
Also, keep in mind that from May to October (winter season), the trail is covered by snow and ice and shuttle services no longer run during this time of the year.
In summary, it was such a great adventure for us and it was the very first time we hiked so many kilometers in a single day. Even though the ascension was quite challenging, we enjoyed every minute of the crossing. Above all, we were so proud of ourselves to have accomplished it! Furthermore, we have seen so many different landscapes during that day. That is to say, I can’t recommend enough adding the Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail to your bucket list!
- Duration: 8:00 hours
- Price: free access + NZD $ 40 for shuttle service upon request
“Since this is a very arduous trail and the weather in New Zealand can be unpredictable, I highly advise you to be well-prepared with good hiking equipment and sufficient food and drink for an entire hiking day to prevent the hike to become dangerous.“
To sum up, I can’t recommend enough to visit New Zealand. Indeed, you will be in awe every day by the natural wonders that stand everywhere through this preserved country. Furthermore, kiwis (the locals) are very kind and helpful (even with tourists)!
That is to say, I hope I have inspired you to travel to New Zealand someday soon, and that you will enjoy it as much as I did!
Moreover, if you want to get more inspiration, you should click here to find all my posts related to New Zealand.
Finally, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. It would be a real pleasure to share with you.
Sending you lots of love,