Epic North Island New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary (with Map!)
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New Zealand is one of the most breathtaking and beautiful countries I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit. Bursting with colour and vibrancy, New Zealand’s aura is lush and green. I had the pleasure of going on a North Island, New Zealand road trip around this beautiful country for three weeks – lucky me!
I found that although some activities can get pricey, you can absolutely still do New Zealand on a budget! Here, I have compiled the perfect New Zealand North Island Itinerary, geared towards the budget traveller. Complete with amazing (and cheap) things to do and see, and including all of my best tips for epic road trips.
North Island Road Trip Map
At the bottom of this article, I have put together a map of the North Island with icons and pins on every location mentioned in this article. The custom map integrates into your Google Maps app on your phone and each location has extra information and a photo of the place so you can easily find it yourself.
Useful Apps for Road Trips in New Zealand
(It’s FREE!) Useful for locating campsites, and it is colour coded by cost so you can always remain within your budget.
- WikiCamps NZ
($2.99) This app is also useful for finding campsites and is a little more user-friendly, however it does cost a small amount of money.
- Essential NZ
(It’s FREE!) This app is all you’ll need for searching for activities in New Zealand, and it allows you to create a personal wish-list and search by area.
- AT Metro
(It’s FREE!) This app is useful for getting yourself from A to B throughout Auckland on public transport.
How to get good deals on motorhome hire in New Zealand
Hiring a campervan for your New Zealand road trip is going to be one of your biggest expenses. But there are several ways you can easily find deals for hiring a motorhome, especially if you are going to New Zealand in low-season. If you are travelling to New Zealand in the shoulder season; Spring (September to November) and Autumn (March to May) or in Winter (June to August) you’re going to find it a lot easier to get great deals on campervan hire. You’ll also find most tourist attractions and activities will have special prices for the low season as well.
To find out prices start by searching for motorhome comparison sites. Most campervan sites have deals on for things like off-season and extended rental. Once on their site find their ‘deals’ tab (usually at the top).
Here are a couple of deals to get you started, note that for some of them you might have to scroll down to New Zealand, as they are international deals:
When booking I found each booking site would have different prices for each motorhome company. Perhaps some weren’t always updated. Sometimes it was better worth your time going to the website of the motorhome company you are interested in and just keep comparing.
Interested in a permanent 20% off deal on camper van hire at any time of year?
While in New Zealand I developed a good relationship with a company called Nomad Campervans NZ, who ended up offering my readers a 20% discount on any bookings made at any time of year. Kerry and Mitchell, the couple who own the business, were some of the most awesome people I met in New Zealand, so I am excited to offer this discount to you!
They are a much smaller and more intimate company than some of the others, which means you may find them a little more expensive. The main drawcard for Nomad NZ is that they have absolutely no branding on the vehicles at all. Meaning you can zip around NZ like a local and not draw any attention to yourself (especially for thieves).
Claim your 20% discount by requesting a quote here, and inserting the following code somewhere in the booking:
Planning your North Island New Zealand Itinerary
You might be wondering where you want to go first and you can’t really decide by just looking at the map. For me, it was an easy choice to drive to the Bay of Islands first because I flew into Auckland, and had four days with my best friend before he had to be back in Auckland for his flight out. This didn’t give us enough time to go very far south and too much time to just do the Coromandel Peninsula.
For you, it will depend on how much time you have. If only a few days, I highly recommend heading towards Northland and the Bay of Islands. However, most people head south to Rotorua, Napier and Hamilton. These areas will take 5+ days but are absolutely beautiful.
Starting from north New Zealand and going south, these are my suggested hit points on your North Island New Zealand Road Trip!
Northland consists of large peninsula starting from about a one-hour drive north of Auckland and reaching all the way to the northernmost tip of New Zealand. Most people will know of the Bay of Islands and the incredible conservation forests that can be visited here (hello, GIGANTIC KAURI TREES!).
Northland is an incredibly scenic part of NZ for driving and I highly suggest adding Northland to your New Zealand road trip itinerary if you have enough time. The following are the main activities and suggestions to get the most out of your time in Northland.
Suggested stay: 1-2 Days
The most Northern tip of New Zealand is thought to be Cape Reinga, however, what most don’t realise is that the actual tip is mostly inaccessible to the general population as it is housed within a sanctuary. Cape Reinga is a beautiful location, but it was packed with a lot of attitude, due to the high wind velocity.
There were many tales traditional to Māori culture about the tip; one in specific being that the two seas (The Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean) colliding together is a symbol of male and female procreation.
Another tale suggests that roots from an old tree lead down through the earth to the water to provide a passage for spirits into the underworld.
Things to do in Cape Reinga
I originally assumed that there weren’t really many things to do in Cape Reinga, and I almost didn’t visit at all, but I am so happy that I did in the end. There’s loads of cool stuff from beautiful scenery to giant sand dunes to slide down. If you’re doing a North Island road trip around New Zealand there is an amazing campsite (one of the most beautiful I’ve ever stayed) that I will talk about in the next section. This is my list of the best Cape Reinga attractions.
Cape Reinga Lighthouse
Surrounded by Māori folklore, the lighthouse sits at the northernmost point and is the meeting place of two seas: the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. I wrote about this awesome free attraction in more detail in my guide: Free Things to do in New Zealand.
‘Te Rerenga Wairua’ in Māori language means the leaping-off place of spirits. And nestled on the cliff edge is a tree known to Maoris as a place where spirits decent into the underworld. The tree’s roots act as steps down to the water.
Despite its interesting story, Cape Reinga lighthouse has spectacular 360-degree views of the oceans and dramatic cliffs and is an attraction I highly recommend.
Slide down the sand dunes at Giant Te Paki
These steep dunes on 90 Mile beach in Northland will bring out your inner child and have you squealing with joy! Use anything you can get your hands on to help you slide down these dunes, be it a boogie board or even just a simple piece of cardboard.
If driving, the exact location can be a bit tricky, since the beach is so long. If you route in Giant Te Packi in a map or use my dropped pin on my Google MyMap, you should be able to park close enough to walk.
Alternatively, there are several tours from Paihia or Auckland that will take you driving up 90-mile beach including a visit to the Te Paki sand dunes. These tours also include other Northland activities.
Camping on a secluded beach with horses at Spirits Bay
Spirits Bay is a stunning and private beach, which also provides a scenic campsite. It is down a short dirt road, but really worth the drive. The grassed area is surrounded by a scenic cliff-face and beautiful horses roaming the grounds. Less than a minute’s walk from the campground is a pretty beach that was sparkling pink when we were there due to thousands of tiny shells. The water was aqua green and looked seriously inviting (although we didn’t go in because it was cold and raining while we were there)!
Where to stay in Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga Camping
I cannot recommend Spirits Bay campsite enough, as you can see from my raving review above. Spirits Bay is simply breathtaking and is surely the best campsite on the North Island! It’s hidden a short distance down a dirt road and is worth the journey to reach it. The beach stretches out as far as the eye can see, and is void of human life (in the off-season anyway). However, it is populated with beautiful horses casually grazing on the lush vegetation that surrounds.
The ocean water is vibrantly green and soothing to the soul. The campsite sports outdoor pit toilets and fresh running water and costs only $6 per night.
Cape Reinga Accommodation
I didn’t stay in any hotels since I was doing a road trip in a campervan. But I use Booking.com to find the best deals when I travel. There are lots of highly-rated hotel in the Kaitaia area near Cape Reinga. Search for some below:
THE BAY OF ISLANDS (PAIHIA AND KERIKERI)
Suggested stay: 2-3 Days
Paihia and Kerikeri are the mainland towns from which the Bay of Islands can be accessed. The Bay of Islands is an incredibly beautiful and secluded area in New Zealand that is known for its undeveloped beaches, dolphin cruises and amazing Maori cultural artefacts. It is also home to the quaint seaside village of Russell, which was originally a whaling port and was the countries first colonial capital.
Despite its small size, there’s plenty to do around the charming seaside town of Paihia, and you’ll soon find that a few days may not be quite enough time.
Things to do in Paihia
Though we ran out of time to do all the activities available to us, what we were able to do was exciting. Here’s a list of the things we got up to during our stay:
Kayak around the Bay of Islands
On the shores of Paihia, you’ll have the opportunity to hire a Kayak to explore the area. We chose to paddle upstream towards horseshoe-shaped Haruru Waterfall. At this waterfall, you can paddle right underneath, getting saturated with the spray was super fun! We also paddled past awesome mangrove forests and saw loads of birdlife.
Alternatively, you can take the kayak around the bay near Paihia and Waitangi, past beautiful, uninhabited islands and through crystal clear ocean waters.
Take a Dolphin and Discovery Cruise
If you have never seen a dolphin in the wild, this is the trip for you! The dolphins live permanently around this bay area, but swimming with them will depend on the weather on the day! If the seas are calm, you’ll have the opportunity to pay a little extra to jump in with them!
The cruise will visit the hole in the rock, and if the conditions are right, they can travel through it! There is also a stop off at Russell, a quaint village that used to be a whaling port as well as a picturesque bay on an island with time to relax, explore or swim.
Things to do in Kerikeri
Take the walking trail to Rainbow Falls
This scenic walk is notorious for Kiwi bird sighting. It is also short and very easy to get to the beautiful Rainbow Falls, taking only 10 minutes to get there. Once you’ve checked out the gorgeous falls from the various platforms above, head towards the bottom where after a little bit of boulder-hopping, you can almost get behind the falls.
If you have more time on your hands, take one of the trails next to the falls, I recommend the one that follows the river downstream. Revel in the gorgeous nature and serenity you’ll no doubt find yourself in here.
Located north of Auckland, the drive to Paihia is short and scenic, and there are plenty of campsites to choose from.
Though there aren’t very many free or even cheap campsites in Paihia, the town is still very much worth the stay. For $14 NZD per night, we stayed at a luxurious spot called Bay of Islands Holiday Apartments.
Other things to do in Northland
Visit the Thousand-year-old trees at Waipoua Forest
Of all the kauri forests in New Zealand, Waipoua Forest has got to be the most famous. This is because Waipoua houses not only the largest tree but also the oldest tree in New Zealand. Tane Mahuta is the largest kauri tree in New Zealand and is about 2, 000 years old. Its canopy has an ecosystem of its own and the trunk at 4.4 metres in diameter is still growing!
Although these incredible trees are a popular attraction for the bus tours, it’s worth braving the crowds to see them. While you are there you can take one of the quieter hiking trails in the area and maybe even spot a kiwi bird!
Camping grounds in Northland
The Trounsen Kauri Park Campground is quite close to the Kauri trees but that’s not the only thing this campground has to offer! On-site the Campground has a 40-minute loop track through the forest that can be walked at night. If you’re lucky you can spot a kiwi bird foraging for food. The Trounsen Campground also provided information on spotting kiwis and even some red filters for our torches so we didn’t disturb the birds.
Camping only costs $6 NZD per night. For this, you will sleep in the forest, enjoy use of a communal kitchen area, have access to hot showers, and even partake in the Kiwi night walk through the grounds. It is great value and I highly recommend staying here during your road trip through New Zealand.
Check out my road trip through Northland in New Zealand
Suggested stay: 2 Days
Auckland is a vibrant city, located between two harbours and surrounded by a cluster of small islands, bays and beaches ready to explore. Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand, but it feels cosy and intimate. Walk the harbour in the late afternoon and dine on the shores in a bar or restaurant.
The thriving main street, called Queen Street, has some exceptional places to eat. Some of my favourites were Korean Barbecue and Japanese. It is also filled with good shopping and is so close to the harbour you can easily make a day of sightseeing in this area.
Things to do in Auckland
Within the sites of Auckland, you can choose from a range of activities that you’d expect to find within a city, such as the amazing museums, cultural shows and tracking down the best look-outs. Although there are lots of things to do in Auckland, I’m just going to talk about my favourites.
Take a tour of one of the Islands
With a selection of gorgeous islands to choose from right on Auckland’s doorstep, it will be difficult to choose just one! Relax and unwind on a wine tour on Waiheke Island, dive the marine reserve on Goat Island or explore the dormant volcanic island of Rangitoto.
Waiheke Island and Rakino Island can easily be accessed by ferry from the mainland. This is a good option for budget travellers not wanting to pay for a tour. Waiheke is absolutely gorgeous with easy access by public transport around the island. Head to a winery for a tasting, check out a secluded beach or explore the tiny township and eat lunch on the water. If you’re after an island you can walk around in one day, consider Rakino Island, it’s only 2.4 km long with several publicly accessible beaches. However, with only 16 residents and limited ferry service, this island offers little more than seclusion.
Climb Mount Eden
Mount Eden is Auckland’s famous crater-made mountain. It is one of 48 volcanic cones in New Zealand and is known for its stunning views of the city. Set inside a 5.5-acre award-winning garden you can see stunning waterfalls, rock formations, native birds and plants all in the one place.
Along with the gorgeous gardens, you can also engage in cultural activities at a former Maori settlement.
Māori cultural performance at Auckland Museum
Though the entry fee to the Maori Cultural Performance at the Auckland Museum is rather steep at $45, this inspiring show is well worth the dollars. The performance takes you on a journey through the story of Aotearoa New Zealand and Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, and wow’s its audience by being one of the best in the world.
If you have never seen a performance of the world-famous haka, this is sure to inspire and delight you! After the show, you also have the opportunity to meet the cast and take photos with them.
Try these incredible, Instagram-worthy Ice Creams, with a twist!
Finally, a place that has a bit of fun with what’s inside and outside the cone! Giapo is a definite must-do when visiting Auckland. Their one-of-a-kind ice creams range from quirky ideas such as ‘Hot Chips in a Cone’, to mind-blowing cone shapes such as ‘The Colossal Squid’ and ‘Auckland Harbour Bridge.’ They also have an extensive gluten-free and vegan food menu plus halal options, which are a plus in Auckland. Highly recommended, delicious desserts.
Free Things to do in Auckland
I actually have a huge list of free things to do in Auckland in my Free Things to do in New Zealand North Island post. Click the link if you’re interested in finding out how to save a few dollars but still doing seriously cool stuff in this incredible city!
Where to stay in Auckland
YHA Auckland International
I stayed at the YHA International while in Auckland. It had great reviews and the beds in the dorms looked comfortable. And they were. I was especially impressed with how well the dorm rooms were laid out, ensuring everyone got their own space and locker, plus a charger inside the lockers. It was also super clean with a nice big kitchen and common area.
Camping in Auckland
A little birdie also told me that if you’re lucky it might be possible to park your camper at Auckland Commerce Club for only $10 per night. This is unconfirmed and a case-by-case basis so it’s best to call or just go there and talk with them.
Suggested stay: 2-4 Days
One of the North Island’s most serene locations, full of gorgeous scenery and exciting attractions. There are heavenly beaches, tranquil rainforests and hiking trails galore.
If travelling by road, chances are you’ll find yourself on the semi-famous 309 Road at some point. This windy, rainforest road is incredibly beautiful and is also camper van heaven, with an abundance of free parking, campsites and numerous adventures to keep you entertained.
The Coromandel Peninsula is high up on my list of the best “weekend away” spots from Auckland. There is nothing that the Coromandel Peninsula doesn’t have to keep you fully entertained. The best Coromandel attractions bits include:
Dig your own spa on Hot Water Beach
Imagine a beautiful beach with volcanic activity underneath… A beach that has hot water running through the sand… What if I said that you could go there and dig your own hot water spa to sit in? Just inches from the ocean! Sounds pretty awesome right? This can all be done for free at Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel.
Digging your own geothermal spa bath in the sand on this spectacular beach is fast becoming one of the most popular things to do on the North Island. Make sure you read my tips on everything you need to know before you go there!
Take the spectacular coastal walk to Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove, New Zealand might just be the most beautiful beach the country has to offer! Feel free to comment and ridicule me / tell me about other ones but this was the best one I saw! Gorgeous aqua coloured water and soft sand, all closed off from the rest of the world by surrounding cliffs.
At one side a Cathedral-shaped hole in the rock leads you to yet another paradise beach – so long as the tide is down. If the tide is high, like it was when I was there, it makes for amazing photographs and Instagram-worthy selfies!
Check out the gorgeous Waiau Falls and Kauri Grove Walk
We did the walk to Waiau Falls in the rain and so we had the entire place to ourselves – no one in sight! We even took a dip in the freezing but the refreshing green milky water of the waterfall, it was a shock but absolutely beautiful! The Kauri Grove Walk will take you to the “Twin Kauris;” two trees that have fused into one at the base.
Waiau Falls and the Kauri Walk are both a short 2-minute drive from each other (or a quick walk) on the 309 Road. They are a little bit “off the beaten path” and we found our 3G didn’t work so well out there which meant had a *little* bit of trouble finding them. However, once on the 309 Road there are signs to Waiau Falls, so just follow them!
Historical day walk at Karangahake
The Karangahake walk is entrenched in an old mining town surrounded by a lusciously forested valley. Despite doing it in the pouring rain, I absolutely LOVED this walk. The scenery is picturesque and the rainforest path also leads you through kilometre-long abandoned train tunnels, under rocky crevices and along old train tracks. Along the walk, you’ll happen across information about the previous mining town which I actually found quite interesting.
Drive the 309 Road
The 309 Road is a 22 km long, narrow, winding, gravel and sealed road between Whitianga and the town of Coromandel. But it isn’t for the faint-hearted, this is a road on which you must go sloooooooow and steady and keep left on the corners. That being said it is still the shortest route between Mercury Bay’s Whitianga and the Hauraki Gulf’s Coromandel Township.
So why drive this road? It’s a very pretty drive that follows a meandering stream through pine forest, native bush, scrub and to the farmland. Along the road, you can see Waiau Falls and the Kauri Grove Walk mentioned above, plus Castle Rock (an old volcano that raises form the bush), Waiau Waterworks (water-powered sculptures), Harmony Gardens and some pigs. Yep, there are wild pigs that walk all over the road and most people driving the road will spot them!
There are two holiday parks plus a cottage as well as places to get food and drinks right near Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel.
Hot Water Beach Top 10
This is the holiday park that is the closest to Hot Water Beach. It’s only a 9-minute walk to the beach or a quick drive. Featuring units with a dining area and patio, kitchen plus an on-site restaurant. If cabins are a little out of your budget, why not try hot water beach camping? Unpowered sites start at approximately $23 per night but discounts are offered for seasonal or long stays. This holiday park has powered and unpowered campsites.
Seabreeze Holiday Park
Seabreeze Holiday Park is a bit further away (almost 30 km to be exact) from Hot Water Beach, but it does have mountain views! It also has a playground for the kids, and an on-site restaurant and convenience store. Seabreeze has unpowered campsites from $20 and powered site from $22.
Oceanside Cottage Hot Water Beach
Now, this is a place close to the beach! Boasting room enough for four guests with a large patio and great beach views. In fact, Oceanside Cottage is literally just across the road from Hot Water Beach. However, it’s just one rental apartment found on Airbnb and Booking.com, so get in quick!
Coromandel Free Camping
The Coromandel Peninsula is full of free campsites (called freedom camping). You can download one of a few apps to find them (I talk about them here) or otherwise you’ll drive past many and you can just pick one that looks good. Honestly, it may be hard to choose just one campsite in the Coromandel. There’s just so many great spaces to choose from! These are my favourite free campsites in the Coromandel.
Campsite near Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove
Take your pick of numerous affordable and free sites to dock your camper van around the Coromandel Peninsula. Egan Park Reserve is a great campsite, located on the 309 Road near Hot Water Beach. It is located in a sheltered valley next to a lovely stream you can swim in! Also features a drop toilet!
Campsite near Karangahake
Another spot that I would recommend is called Dicky Flat, which sits right next to a gorgeous little stream. Some of the parking is gravel, the rest is a nice lawn. There are also toilets there. I went for a walk in the afternoon and the little trail next to the site is absolutely stunning!
Check out my road trip through the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand
ROTORUA AND THE BAY OF PLENTY
Suggested stay: 3-4 Days
Rotorua is one place I would recommend seeing, even if you don’t go anywhere else on the North Island. It’s known as the geothermal city, and this amazing area is thriving with bubbling streams and pools. The sites in Rotorua absolutely took our breath away (and it wasn’t just because of the rotting egg smell)! There are hot springs littered all over Rotorua, some of which are free and others that are hidden away in some of the city’s beautiful and peaceful wellness centres.
The Bay of Plenty is situated on a gorgeous body of water that is dotted with various large islands. The Whakatane township is a mix of a beach resort and cosmopolitan city living. The Bay of Plenty is known for its great surf beaches, sunshine and friendly people. The Bay area is also steeped in Maori culture and history.
One of the biggest drawcards to the Bay of Plenty is the abundance of geothermal and volcanic activity. I particularly came here to take a boat to White Island, New Zealand’s only active marine volcano.
Things to do in the Bay of Plenty
The Bay of Plenty has a variety of activities and most can be accessed from the town of Whakatane. Nearby Tauranga is a colonial city nestled on New Zealand’s largest export port. You can get a helicopter from Tauranga to White Island, but to save money I would suggest catching the boat from Whakatane. More info below.
Explore an active volcano island
It’s a little costly, but if you can afford the White Island Tour, do it! It’s seriously one of the coolest things I have ever done!!! The White Island Tour will take you through an active volcano island where you can see roaring gas vents, bright yellow sulphur and even molten water boiling away inside the crater!
Take INCREDIBLE pictures, explore and marvel at this amazing volcano island (and learn about the history of its abandoned sulfur mine too). This Island is NOT for the faint of heart! Tours depart from the town of Whakatane daily. Lunch and all equipment needed are provided on the tour.
Things to do in Rotorua
There’s an abundance of different things to do in Rotorua, not all of them centre on volcanic activity. Although most of my favourite ones do! Rotorua claims it is the best volcanic, geothermal and cultural city in the world and is a popular destination for people who love the outdoors. There is a Redwood Forest, Kuirau Park, Government gardens, lakes, mountain bike trails, forest walks and local markets. I was very limited on time so these are my top picks for Rotorua things to do:
Check out the colourful Rotorua hot springs at Kuirau Park
This park is absolutely free and simply teeming with hot springs, which range from mud pools to clear bright green and yellow ones. I particularly liked a stunning pond that had yellow sulphur build up along the bottom, which lit up the water in spectacular colour.
There is also a children’s park, picnic and BBQ facilities and a foot pool to soak your feet in once you’ve finished walking around. On Saturdays, there is a weekly flea market on in Kuirau Park.
Soak in the warmth of Kerosene Creek
Set amongst lush native bush, Kerosene Creek is popular among both travellers and locals, who come to relax out under the mesmerising hot volcanic geothermal falls! The water is just right for a soak and it offers a natural bathing experience like no other. Access to Kerosine Creek is free, making it a popular choice for locals especially.
The river is easily accessed from the road (only a 200-metre walk) and there is parking with toilets and showers as well. Of note, don’t put your head under when swimming, as there are rare but deadly microbes in the water!
Where to camp in Rotorua
With the help of Campermate (a free app), you won’t have any trouble finding a range of campsites around this area. I found that ‘Lakeside,’ which is located near the roundabout on Lake Road, and Hinemoa Street Carpark are two of the best free spots in town. If you’d prefer a more nature-central campsite, there is also a range of options only a 10-minute drive away.
Rotorua has some incredible accommodation options in both hotels and at wellness centres. However, I didn’t stay in hotels in Rotorua, as I was cruising around in my campervan. But for all of my bookings, I use Booking.com. Check some prices below:
READ MORE: 15 Free things to do on the North Island
Check out my road trip through Rotorua and visit to White Island active volcano in New Zealand
HAMILTON AND THE WAIKATO REGION
Suggested stay: 4 Days
Waikato gets its name from the Maori word “flowing river”. It is a region consisting of mainly dairy farms, as well as the city of Hamilton and some seriously good surf off the coast. Though Hamilton itself isn’t really that exciting, there are adventures and walks aplenty in the surrounding areas. Plus, only a short drive away from Hamilton you’ll find the Raglan Township, which is famous to surfers all over as the “longest left-hand break in the world.”
There is also an underground river located south of Hamilton called Waitomo Caves where you can rappel into and explore as part of a Blackwater Rafting tour.
But perhaps the most famous landmark in Waikato is the movie set of Hobbiton. This activity can be accessed from the small town of Matamata. Unsurprisingly, the set of Hobbiton is based on a farm, and the owners of the land are still proud farmers who outsource the running of the movie set to others since they have no interest in it. Pretty cool, huh?
There are loads of things to do in Waikato, it is is absolutely bursting with fun attractions. Trekking, caving and surfing just to name a few. Though there aren’t a whole heap of things to do in Waikato for free, there are some gorgeous hikes, beaches to relax on and nature to immerse yourself in. Here’s a list of my favourite Waikato activities, all easily accessed from Hamilton and Rotorua.
Explore the adorable Movie Set of Hobbiton
Located comfortably between Rotorua and Hamilton lies the quaint town of Matamata. This is where you can find the tiny village Movie Set of Hobbiton. You can explore ‘The Shire’ first-hand on this charming tour, which is something I enjoyed far more than I anticipated. The whole place is totally adorable and I kind of lost my s**t over it all… Watch the video below to see me embarrass myself over tiny dried fish and chimneys.
You must take a guided tour of Hobbiton, as they do not allow you to wonder the grounds by yourself. But, the tour is full of awesome knowledge of the place and I thoroughly enjoyed myself!
Blackwater Rafting through Waitomo Gloworm Caves
Enjoy abseiling; climbing and exploring underground cave systems, full of glowing worms. Float down a stream inside a natural labyrinth, scramble through a tight cavern and be pushed down a river rapid. This adventurous tour is seriously good fun and a great way to explore hidden New Zealand.
Based in the Waitomo Region, you can happily waste a whole day in this are if you have a little bit of extra money. However, if this sort of tour is far too hands-on for you, there are several other options such as an easy walking tour of the caves and a boat tour.
Swim at Ocean Beach amongst the black volcanic sand
Ocean Beach is also known as Ngarunui Beach and is the main sand-covered swimming beach in Raglan. This magnificent beach is covered in black volcanic sand that stretches the length of the beach. It is the perfect beach to learn to surf on as the waves are much smaller here than Manu Bay. There is a surf school that operates on the beach as well.
Lifesavers that patrol the beach and facilities include a picnic and BBQ area, bathrooms, sculptures and walking trails that make it the perfect place for a family day out.
Experiences the longest left-hand break at Manu Bay
Manu Bay is also known as ‘The Point’ and is a known surf spot by surfers around the world. Watch the surfers, both professional and amateur alike, as they shred up the famous left-hand break. Or if you’re game, jump in on the action!
The perfect break allows surfers to travel for up to 2 km or for a full ten minutes. It sounds like fun, but paddling back to where you left is going to be hard work!
Trek the Sanctuary Mountain in Maungatautari
This was one of my favourite treks. Sanctuary Mountain is known for its endangered bird life, which is protected in the area. Once you step through the gate you are transported into another world where ancient forest towers above and the air is filled with birdsong. Keep in mind that this is conservation area and by removing all the mammals from Maungatautari, they have been able to reintroduce some of New Zealand’s most endangered species back into their natural habitat.
Camping in Waikato
Waitomo was one of the friendliest and easiest places to find campsites, simply because there’s just so much space! On the occasion, even restaurants and other properties are willing to open up their grounds to provide you with a place to dock for the night.
Roselands Waitomo Caves is one area in particular that stood out to me. It’s free, and located in forest surrounds beside a barbecue restaurant, which btw does $10 Beef Casserole dinners every night just to top it off.
I used my CamperMate app to find campsites in Raglan for parking motorhomes. There is one free site at Raglan Tavern, which has a clean shower and toilet. It is courteous to buy some drinks at the bar as a thank you for the use of their facilities.
There are also a couple of low-cost paid sites in Raglan at ‘Kev’s place’ and Te Kapuoa Whanau Camp with sites starting at $10 NZD per person. Both have good reviews and nice views.
Waitomo and Raglan Accommodation
I didn’t stay in hotels in the Waikato Region (I was living like a bum out of my campervan) so I can’t really talk too much about Raglan Accommodation. However, I always use Booking.com to find the best prices on hotels and I have used them in New Zealand with good success.
Check out my road trip to Hobbiton, Raglan and the Waitomo Caves
Suggested stay: 2 Days
Wellington is New Zealand’s capital city, that’s bursting with vibrancy and creativity. It is constantly buzzing with events, great food and coffee and craft beer. Victorian timber architecture hugs the glowing harbour as locals get swept away in the wind.
Things to do in Wellington
Though I sadly didn’t get to go this far South, I heard so many great things about Wellington. I have put together a quick list of the top things to do in Wellington, that I wish I had the time to enjoy:
Explore the Te Papa Museum for everything NZ
Visit the Te Papa museum for all things New Zealand. Said to be the best museum in the country, this place has it all from amazing art installations, Pacific Cultures, Natural history and Maori History. Even the name: ‘Te Papa Tongarewa’, translates to ‘container of treasures’. And just to top it all off, it’s totally FREE!
Get lost in film special effects in Weta Cave
This one is for the movie buffs. At Weta Workshop you’ll find behind the scenes work such as concept design and prop production used in some of the best movies Weta Digital have produced. These include; Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit films, Tintin, Avatar, Thor, Blade Runner 2049 and Ghost in the Shell. Weta Cave is also totally free unless you would like to participate in a workshop.
Walk Mount Victoria for incredible views
Mount Victoria is famously part of the Lord of the Rings movies and it sports brilliant views of the city below. Located right in the central business district it is a short drive to the top or an easy walk through the bush-covered town belt.
Cuba Street district
In this area you’ll find hipsters, buskers and businessmen alike, mingling in the culture, cafes, shopping districts and the street art. Anything goes here, so be prepared to hang out with the city’s alternative crowd.
Road Trip in New Zealand, North Island Map!
I made this custom map, just for you! It includes everything from where I went on my road trip, great free camping sites and super fun (and often cheap) activities you can do on the North Island!
Click on each icon to see more information about the location or activity. To open this map in Google Maps simply tap the small square icon on the top right-hand side of the map.
If you are using the map from your phone, the map should save into “Your Places” > “MAPS” automatically. You can select an area (such as Isla Mujeres) to download and use offline if you won’t always have access to data. For more information on how to download maps for offline, click here.
WHERE NEXT? 3 Week Guide: New Zealand South Island
New Zealand Budget
Including the essentials such as campervan hire, food, petrol and activities I calculated that we spent an average of about $90 NZD per day on the North Island during our road trip.
If your budget for New Zealand is a little tighter you could probably widdle it down to as low as $70 per day, including campervan hire, petrol and food. But if you’re feeling a little more casual and you’re happy to splurge on activities I estimate you’ll spend more around the $170 mark per day.
READ MORE: 7 Reasons to visit New Zealand in the Spring
Pin for Later!
What are the places you would put on your New Zealand, North Island Itinerary?