14-Day Budget Itinerary for the North Island of New Zealand
With just two weeks to explore the land of New Zealand, it’s a good idea to stick to one of its main islands. If the North Island is your chosen destination, then you’re in the right place. This North Island budget itinerary for two weeks encapsulates New Zealand’s most vibrant cities, gorgeous beaches, volcanic landscapes and more. What’s more, sticking to your budget is easy thanks to our recommended free and cheap activities, budget accommodations and tips on different ways to get around.
Plan an easy 14-day budget itinerary around the North Island right here.
How to Get Around the North Island in Two Weeks on a Budget
Two weeks gives you plenty of time to explore the North Island without feeling too rushed. The best ways to get around, utilising the below itinerary, are as follows:
- Rental car or campervan – For freedom to visit all of the stops we recommend in this budget two-week itinerary, rent a car or campervan. As this itinerary starts in Auckland and ends in Wellington, we recommend choosing a rental company that have depots in both cities. Start your research with The Guide to Renting a Car or Campervan 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 two-week 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 10-12-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 longer. They tend to be cheaper than escorted bus tours. Find out more in What is a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus?
- Domestic flights – The below itinerary begins in Auckland and ends in Wellington. Both cities have international airports and are well connected by domestic flights. If you’re leaving New Zealand from Auckland, you will need to consider booking a domestic flight from Wellington to Auckland.
- Train – Alternative to taking a flight from Wellington to Auckland (and better for the planet), take a scenic train journey with the Northern Explorer. Find out more on our guide to the Train Network in New Zealand and book tickets on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Day 1 – Auckland Airport to Auckland Central
Travel time: 40 minutes
It’s real; you’re in New Zealand! Because this country is far from where many of you are coming from, chances are you’ll be tired and jet-lagged (or super excitable from the adrenaline, but that wears off eventually). With that in mind, we recommend either picking up your car rental if it’s at the airport or using one of the affordable bus and shuttle options to get to Auckland Central.
Check-in at your budget accommodation in Auckland and start exploring the city centre attractions, like the Sky Tower (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), The Auckland Museum (on Viator and Tripadvisor) or the bushwalks in the Auckland Domain. It’s best to keep active while it’s still daylight in order to overcome jet lag quickly. Check out more tips in 10 Simple Ways to Get Over Jet Lag.
Budget Accommodation in Auckland
- YMCA Auckland
- ibis budget Auckland Central
- Princeton Apartments
- Jucy Snooze Auckland
- Attic Backpackers
Check out more of our top recommendations in the 10 Best Budget Accommodation in Auckland City.
Day 2 – Explore Auckland
It’s day two of getting your body clock onto New Zealand’s time zone, as well as a day to explore some of Auckland’s highlights. There’s plenty of free and ultra-cheap things to do in the city, which we list below. If you have the budget to spare, however, we fully recommend a ferry trip to one of Auckland’s outer islands, whether it’s the volcanic island of Rangitoto or the bird sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Auckland
- See Auckland from the top of the Sky Tower (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Watch a free movie at Silo Park in the summer
- Climb Mt Eden for amazing views
- Take a cheap ferry to Devonport or Rangitoto Island
- Walk in the forest… in Auckland Domain
Find out more about each activity and others in 17 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Auckland.
Day 3 – Auckland to the Bay of Islands
Travel time: 3h15mins
It’s time to hit the road! If you haven’t already, pick up your car rental in Auckland or hop on an InterCity bus to Paihia in the Bay of Islands. Note that the fastest route between Auckland and Paihia has a toll road. Check out our Quick Guide The Northern Gateway Toll Road for more information.
There’s the option to take a 35-minute detour to the Goat Island Marine Reserve to do clear kayaking over fish and stingrays. Find out more about this experience and book your kayaks on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Another stop is the short walk to the majestic Whangarei Falls in the city of Whangarei. You can also check out the cafes and see glowworms at Abbey Caves for free. All of these and more are listed in the 19 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Whangarei.
Once you arrive in Paihia, you have two options: either check-in at some cheap accommodation or join The Rock Adventure Cruise, which is a hostel on the water and awesome activities to explore the bay.
Budget Accommodation in Paihia
See some of our top picks in the 10 Best Budget Accommodation in Paihia.
Day 4 – Explore the Bay of Islands
Today, experience the Bay of Islands your way. You could be completing The Rock Adventure Cruise with snorkelling, visiting islands and kayaking. If not, we recommend a bus tour to the top of the North Island.
Let someone else worry about the driving as you enjoy a diverse journey to Cape Reinga. This place has cultural significance, spectacular views and a photogenic lighthouse. The tour also includes driving down New Zealand’s sandy highway, Ninety Mile Beach, sandboarding on sand dunes, and seeing the largest species of trees in New Zealand. Check out the tour with Fullers GreatSights on Viator and Tripadvisor.
On the other hand, if you just want to hang out in the Bay of Islands, check out the list below for some of the things you could be doing.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in the Bay of Islands
- See the magnificent Rainbow Falls in Kerikeri
- Take a tour of the Stone Store Museum and Kemp House
- Take the ferry from Paihia to historic Russell
- See New Zealand’s most famous public toilets in Kawakawa
- Walk to Haruru Falls in Paihia
For more ideas, head to 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in the Bay of Islands.
Day 5 – Bay of Islands to Auckland
Travel time: 3h15mins
This morning, head back down to Auckland. Drive down the way you came up (which is the fastest way) doing some of the free activities in Whangarei that you might have missed. Alternatively, take a 1h20min detour to Omapere to drive down the Kauri Coast. On this latter route, you might like to stop by the Koutu Boulders, the Waipoua Forest with its magnificent Kauri trees, or somewhere else mentioned in our 10 Outstanding Things to Do in Opononi & Omapere.
Get some rest in Auckland, do the free activities you might have missed, scout out some of the cheap eats, and enjoy another night in its cheap accommodation. For more reading on New Zealand’s largest city, check out The Guide to Auckland on a Budget.
Day 6 – Auckland to Waitomo
Travel time: 2h20mins
Set off in the morning to Waitomo, which will give you enough time to do a cave tour once you arrive. If you need to pick up supplies or want to grab a bite to eat, take a quick detour to Hamilton city. There’s also 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 Accommodation in Waitomo.
Day 7 – Waitomo to Rotorua
Travel time: 1h55mins
Start off your morning with any of the free activities you might have missed in Waitomo. Then, it’s under a two-hour journey to Rotorua unless you’re a Middle-earth enthusiast. In that case, you can take a 15-minute detour to the Hobbiton Movie Set. Check out Viator and Tripadvisor to book your tickets. You might also be interested in How to Get the Best Hobbiton Discount.
If Hobbits aren’t your thing, a scenic 5-minute detour to the Putaruru Blue Spring/Te Waihou Walkway is well worth it. Here, you’ll see a vividly blue and transparent stream along a three-hour return walkway.
In Rotorua, get started on checking out the free geothermal Kuirau Park in the city centre. Check-in at your accommodation from the recommendations listed below.
Budget Accommodation in Rotorua
- Golden Glow Motel
- Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park
- Astray Motel
- Rock Solid Backpackers
- Funky Green Voyager
For more details on accommodations, take a look at the 10 Best Budget Accommodation in Rotorua.
Day 8 – Explore Rotorua
You have the whole day to explore Rotorua and 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 and Tripadvisor) or Whakawerawera Living Maori Village (on Viator or Tripadvisor). You’ll also find a lot more recommendations on paid activities in the 10 Rotorua Must-Dos.
But to keep the costs to a minimum (this North Island budget itinerary for two weeks, after all), 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 9 – Rotorua to Tongariro National Park
Travel time: 2h10mins
Next on this two-week North Island budget itinerary is the Tongariro National Park, but not without a few awesome stops along the way. If you have the budget, stop by the amazing geothermal parks between Rotorua and Taupo. Choose from Wai-O-Tapu (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), Waimangu Volcanic Valley (on Viator and Tripadvisor) and Orakei Korako (on Viator or Tripadvisor).
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.
If you have time or are not enthused by the already suggested activities, then you might like 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.
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
- YHA 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 10 – 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 crossing. 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 alternatives.
Speaking of alternative walks, 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 featuring a waterfall plunging off an old lava flow. More waterfall delights await on the Tawhai Falls, while the Ridge Track offers more excellent volcano views. A good 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 11 – Tongariro National Park to Whanganui
Travel time: 1h50mins
On your way down to the city of Whanganui today, take a 5-10 minute detour to Ohakune. Here, cycle the Old Coach Road through the forest of the Tongariro National Park (check out bike hire on Viator and Tripadvisor), do a bushwalk on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu, or simply check out the giant carrot sculpture.
You’ll then follow a scenic drive down the Mangawhero River valley, stopping off to check out Raukawa Falls from the roadside, before reaching Whanganui. The city is extremely budget-friendly with most of its highlights being free. Check out the list below for things to do, as well as the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Whanganui.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Whanganui
- Check out the views from the Durie Hill Tower
- Wander around Virginia Lake
- Visit the Whanganui Regional Museum
- Hire a bike and cycle alongside the Whanganui River
- Do a road trip on the Whanganui River Road
For more ideas and information on each one, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Whanganui.
Budget Accommodation in Whanganui
- Whanganui River TOP 10 Holiday Park
- 42b College House
- Braemar House
- Astral Motel
- The Grand Hotel Wanganui
For more information on our top picks, check out the 10 Best Budget Accommodation in Whanganui.
Day 12 – Whanganui to Wellington
Travel time: 2h30mins
Do anything you might have missed in Whanganui this morning then hit the road to the capital city!
Travel through the North Island’s quirkiest towns like Bulls, whose shops and services feature puns about bulls – ha… ha? Check out the giant windmill in Foxton, grab a bite to eat in Levin, and stretch your legs on the beaches and sand dune walks of Queen Elizabeth Park in Paraparaumu.
In Wellington, check-in at your budget accommodation and perhaps take a stroll to the Te Papa Museum. New Zealand’s national museum is free-entry and open until 6pm, so is always an easy visit when you first arrive. You’ll have more time to explore Wellington tomorrow.
Budget Accommodation in Wellington
For more details on our top picks, check out the 10 Best Budget Accommodation in Wellington City.
Day 13 – Explore Wellington
You have the whole day to explore the capital of New Zealand. Some of the free activities include the Te Papa Museum, walking the trails up Mt Victoria, exploring the Botanic Garden, checking out the art on the Wellington Waterfront and much more that we list in the 21 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wellington.
An activity worth doing, if you have a little budget to spare, is Zealandia Ecosanctuary. Admission is under NZ$20 and gives you access to a predator-free reserve where New Zealand’s weird and wonderful birds thrive. Spot them as you’re walking the network of trails and learn more about the New Zealand eco-system at the extremely informative museum.
And if that’s not your thing, check out our One Day in Wellington: City Walking Tour Itinerary for things to do on the cheap.
Free and Cheap Things to Do in Wellington
- Visit the Te Papa Museum
- Check out the views from Mt Victoria
- Take the Cable Car to the Botanic Garden
- People-watch and check out the art on the Wellington Waterfront
- See the seals on the Red Rocks Walkway
Find out more about each activity and much more in 20 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wellington.
Day 14 – Wellington to Wellington Airport
Travel time: 15 minutes
Depending on what time your connecting flight to Auckland (or Christchurch) is, you may have time to do some more of the 21 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Wellington.
Wellington Airport is just a 15-minute drive from the city centre. Remember to give yourself enough time to return your rental car if using one. Wellington has frequent flights to Auckland where you have the most choice of international routes out of New Zealand.
Alternatively, (yes, we even have an alternative way to get back to Auckland) take a scenic train journey to Auckland with the Northern Explorer. Find out more on Viator and Tripadvisor. Or the bus from Wellington to Auckland is a cheaper, albeit, less convenient option. However, both alternative transport methods have a lower carbon footprint and are, therefore, a better way to travel for the planet.
Goodbye from New Zealand! Next time, why not try the South Island Budget Itinerary: Two Weeks?