7-Day Budget Itinerary for the North Island of New Zealand
One week might be a very short duration to explore the exciting and diverse North Island of New Zealand but it’s still enough to see some highlights. This North Island budget and backpacking itinerary for one week captures volcanic landscapes, geothermal hotspots, gorgeous beaches, glowworm caves and more. What’s more, it features multiple free and cheap attractions, as well as budget accommodations in each destination so you can curate the perfect budget itinerary to suit your tastes. Plan your North Island trip like a boss with this 7-day North Island itinerary for budget travellers and backpackers.
How to Get Around the North Island in One Week on a Budget
The best ways to get around the North Island, utilising the below itinerary, are as follows:
- Rental car or campervan – For freedom to visit all of the stops we recommend in this budget one-week itinerary, rent a car or campervan. As this itinerary starts and ends in Auckland, you don’t need to worry about paying a one-way rental fee. Start your research with The Guide to Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand and The Best Backpacker Campervan Rentals in New Zealand.
- National bus service – InterCity offers the cheapest way to get between all of the destinations mentioned in this budget itinerary. Find out more about the passes available in What’s the Difference Between InterCity Backpacker Bus Passes?
- Escorted bus tour – While 7-day North Island bus tours won’t follow the exact itinerary we have, they’ll have their own set itineraries hitting some of the destinations mentioned. Check out tour companies in The Best 7-Day Tours of the North Island.
- Hop-on hop-off tour – Similar to a bus tour, hop-on hop-off buses follow a set itinerary around the country but give you the flexibility to stay in some destinations for longer. All you need to do is catch the next bus. They tend to be cheaper than escorted bus tours. Find out more in What is a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus?
Day 1 – Auckland Airport to Waitomo
Travel time: 2h20mins
It’s real; you’re in New Zealand! Unfortunately, you don’t have much time to get over the jet lag, so pick up your rental vehicle from the Auckland airport or catch the bus down to Waitomo. Make sure you follow our tips in 10 Simple Ways to Get Over Jet Lag so you are as rested as possible for hitting the road.
If you set off in the morning, you will have enough time to do a cave tour. On your journey to Waitomo, pick up supplies or grab a bite to eat in Hamilton city or in the quirky town of Otorohanga which is the self-proclaimed “Kiwiana Capital of the World”.
In Waitomo, you have walking cave tours, underground tubing, boat tours, caving tours and free walks available. Check out tour options in the 8 Best Waitomo Cave Tours. Alternatively, see the list below for free things to do.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Waitomo
- Take a road trip to see free sights like Marokopa Falls, Mangapohue Natural Bridge and more
- Do the Ruakuri Bushwalk
- Learn something new at the Waitomo Museum of Caves
- Visit Otorohanga and do the Ed Hillary Walkway
- Dig your own hot pool at Kawhia Beach.
For more ideas, head to the 15 Free Things to Do in Waitomo.
Budget Accommodation in Waitomo
- Juno Hall Backpackers
- Waitomo TOP 10 Holiday Park
- Otorohanga Kiwi Holiday Park
- Kiwi Paka Waitomo
- Waitomo Caves Guest Lodge
For more listings, check out the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Waitomo.
Day 2 – Waitomo to Tongariro National Park
Travel time: 2 hours
If you missed doing a cave tour or one of the awesome walks in Waitomo, take the time to do it this morning before driving to the Tongariro National Park.
Stops along the way include the giant sheep shearer statue in Te Kuiti, rail-karting with Forgotten World Adventures in Taumarunui, the Ohinetonga Track in Owhango, and the Raurimu Spiral Lookout.
Your final destination today is Whakapapa Village or National Park Village, depending on where you can get accommodation. The villages are the closest to the Tongariro National Park. Plus, they are only 10 minutes apart.
Budget Accommodation in Whakapapa and National Park Villages
- Skotel Alpine Resort
- Plateau Lodge
- National Park Backpackers
- Howard’s Mountain Lodge
- Manowhenua Lodge
Find out more about these accommodations in the 11 Best Backpacker Hostels in Tongariro National Park.
Day 3 – Explore Tongariro National Park
If the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is on your list, you’re in the best place for it as you wake up in one of the closest villages to the trail. Shuttles will transport you to the one-way day hike which is deemed the most popular in the country. Organise your transport using Tongariro Crossing Accommodation and Transport: A Practical Guide. Note that you’ll need a guide in winter or do one of the amazing alternative walks.
Speaking of alternatives, there’s a myriad of short walks in Whakapapa to take advantage of. Taranaki Falls is a good one, boasting views of the volcanic cone of Mt Ngauruhoe on a clear day, as well as getting you close to a waterfall plunging over an old lava flow. More waterfall delights await on the Tawhai Falls, while the Ridge Track offers more excellent volcano views. An awesome year-round alternative to the Tongariro Crossing is the return Tama Lakes hike.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Whakapapa and National Park
- Hike the popular Tongariro Crossing
- Check out the stunning Taranaki Falls
- Do short walks like Tawhai Falls and the Ridge Track
- See the creamy-white terraces of the Silica Rapids Walk
- Indulge in high tea at the Chateau Tongariro.
Learn about the walks and more in the 13 Walks Around National Park Village & Whakapapa Village.
Day 4 – Tongariro National Park to Rotorua
Travel time: 2h10mins
Next on this one-week North Island budget itinerary is the geothermal and cultural hub of Rotorua, but not without making a few stops first.
If hiking in the Tongariro National Park has gotten you craving more amazing scenery, then stop by the 2-hour walk around Lake Rotopounamu. The walk is an excellent example of New Zealand’s lush native forest and the lake is pretty darn stunning too. What’s more, it’s free.
Taupo is next, where you can stop for a bite to eat using The Foodie Guide to Taupo or Cheap Eats in Taupo. Check out the powerful rapids of Huka Falls, soak in the free hot pools at Otumuheke Stream, or try the Hole in One Challenge on the lakeside. See more fun free stuff in the 12 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Taupo.
Finally, if you have the budget, it’s well worth stopping by the amazing geothermal parks between Taupo and Rotorua. Choose from Wai-O-Tapu (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), Waimangu Volcanic Valley (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook) and Orakei Korako (on Viator or Tripadvisor).
You have the whole day to explore Rotorua more tomorrow. For now, relax at your budget accommodation or go out for something to eat following The Foodie Guide to Rotorua.
Budget Accommodation in Rotorua
- Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park
- Golden Glow Motel
- Astray Motel
- Blue Lake TOP 10 Holiday Park
- Rock Solid Backpackers
For more information on our top picks, check out the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Rotorua and 10 Best Backpacker Hostels in Rotorua.
Day 5 – Explore Rotorua
You have the whole day to explore Rotorua along with its free and affordable attractions, as listed below. If you have some budget to spare, you’re in one of the best places to experience a Maori culture tour and a traditional hangi meal. Check out Mitai Maori Village (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), Tamaki Maori Village (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook) or Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook). You’ll also find a lot more recommendations in the 20 Rotorua Must-Dos.
But to keep the costs to a minimum in this North Island budget itinerary for one week, here are some more adventures you could be having…
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Rotorua
- Relax in one of the free thermal pools
- Check out one of the surrounding walks, such as the Blue Lake Walk or the Tarawera Trail
- Check out the free geothermal park, Kuirau Park
- Visit the National Bird of Prey Centre, Wingspan
- Enjoy a cheap cruise and buffet meal on the Lakeland Queen (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).
For more ideas, just head to the 13 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Rotorua.
Day 6 – Rotorua to the Coromandel
Travel time: 3h10mins
We definitely don’t recommend rushing to the Coromandel Peninsula too quickly. Take it slow by doing a 20-minute detour to the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata. Check out Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook or KKday to book your tickets. You might also be interested in How to Get the Best Hobbiton Discount.
Next, drive the Old Te Aroha Road to the Wairere Falls Track where you’ll see the highest waterfall on the North Island. Then drive north for refreshments in Te Aroha. We fully recommend a 15-minute detour to Karangahake Gorge for walks through old mining tunnels among a stunning river gorge.
After you’ve taken a photo with the giant L&P bottle in Paeroa, you have a final 1 to 1h30min drive along the winding roads of the Coromandel Peninsula, depending on which budget accommodation you decide to stay. We have some recommendations, of course!
Budget Accommodation in the Coromandel
- Hot Water Beach TOP 10 Holiday Park
- Aotearoa Lodge, Whitianga
- Cooks Beach Resort, Cooks Beach
- Hahei Holiday Resort
- Tatahi Cove, Hahei
Find out more about our top picks in the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in the Coromandel and the 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in The Coromandel.
Day 7 – The Coromandel to Auckland Airport
Travel time: 2h15mins
Book your flight out of Auckland for the evening, because you’re not going to want to miss what The Coromandel has to offer. Highlights include a walk to Cathedral Cove and digging your own hot pool at Hot Water Beach at low tide. If your budget will allow, paddle to Cathedral Cove with Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours, as listed on Viator and Tripadvisor. Check out more recommendations in the list below.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in the Coromandel
- Walk to Cathedral Cove
- Dig a hot pool at Hot Water Beach
- See rare birds at the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre
- Have a soak at the Miranda Hot Springs
- Learn about the local history at the Mercury Bay Museum.
For more ideas, take a look at the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in the Coromandel.
Give yourself plenty of time to return your rental vehicle (if applicable), then’s it’s goodbye to the North Island! Maybe next time, you can visit the South Island using the South Island Budget Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days.
More About a New Zealand North Island Budget Itinerary for One Week/7 Days
That’s it for our New Zealand North Island budget and backpacking itinerary for 7 days. If that wasn’t the itinerary you were looking for, check out these alternative 7-day itineraries:
- North Island in One Week: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary
- New Zealand in One Week: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary
- South Island Budget Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days
- North Island Family Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days
- North Island Honeymoon Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days
- North Island Foodie Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days
- North Island Luxury Itinerary: One Week / 7 Days
- How to Create the Perfect New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary
Finally, get advice on planning more of your backpacking or budget trip to New Zealand with The Travel Guide to New Zealand on a Budget and NZ Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to New Zealand Cost?