The Ultimate 1-Week North Island Road Trip Itinerary (Starting and Ending in Auckland)
We’ll skip the part where we tell you that seven days on the North Island is not long enough and make you an unforgettable itinerary to make the most of the time that you have…
When visiting the North Island of New Zealand in only a week, you will have to cut some serious corners to make the most of your trip. However, trying to fit too much in a short amount of time makes the journey much less enjoyable and exhausting, and less about experiences and more just about ticking boxes. For this reason, we have worked our itinerary below using the following criteria:
- Exciting destinations with lots of activity options to suit every budget and taste
- No more than three hours drive per day
- Suggested activities or refreshment stops between destinations.
What’s more, Auckland Airport is the main and cheapest airport to arrive and depart the North Island, so with that in mind, this 7-day North Island itinerary starts and ends in Auckland. (For an alternative itinerary starting in Auckland and ending in Wellington, see North Island 1 Week Road Trip Itinerary – Auckland to Wellington.)
With all that out of the way, let’s jump into this itinerary for seven days on the North Island, starting and ending in Auckland!
North Island Road Trip Itinerary for 1 Week (7 Days): Overview
- Day 1 – Auckland Airport to Rotorua (via Hobbiton)
- Day 2 – Explore Rotorua
- Day 3 – Rotorua to Taupo
- Day 4 – Explore Taupo
- Day 5 – Taupo to Waitomo
- Day 6 – Waitomo to Raglan
- Day 7 – Raglan to Auckland Airport
Renting a Car or Campervan for 1 Week on the North Island
Travelling for one week on the North Island and looking for the perfect road trip itinerary? Renting a car or campervan is going to be the best way to squeeze everything you want into one week on the North Island. This means no waiting around for buses and gives you the freedom to hit all the incredible North Island destinations listed below.
For a complete comparison of rental companies, check out The Best Car Rental Companies in Auckland and The Best Motorhome & Campervan Rentals in Auckland.
Alternative Transport: 7-Day Bus Tours of the North Island
For travellers who would rather let someone else do the driving, escorted bus tours are a great option to take you around the North Island. Some of the tour companies that offer 7-day tours of the North Island are listed in The 7 Best 7-Day Tours of the North Island. Plus, see How to Travel by Bus in New Zealand for more ways to experience the North Island without a car.
Day 1 – Auckland Airport to Rotorua (via Hobbiton)
Drive time: 2 hrs 40 mins
Once you’ve arrived at Auckland Airport, had the rest you need, and picked up your rental vehicle, we recommend hitting the road to Rotorua. While it might be a long drive, there are plenty of ways to break the day up.
Things to Do on the Road to Rotorua
- Do the Te Waihou Walkway (1 hr 30 mins-3 hours walk) to the Putaruru Blue Spring
- Lord of the Rings fans, stop by the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata (more info on Viator and Klook)
- Walk to Wairere Falls (1-2 hours walk), the North Island’s highest waterfall
- Stop for coffee and find the colourful cow sculptures in Morrinsville.
Things to Do in Rotorua
If you get to Rotorua with time to spare, here are a few suggestions.
- Relax in a natural geothermal hot pool. There are paid options, such as the Polynesian Spa (more info on Klook or KKday), or go find some of the 5 Free Natural Hot Pools in Rotorua
- See an evening cultural performance at one of the Maori attractions
- Go for a bite to eat on Eat Streat and beyond
- See the forest decorated on the Redwoods Treewalk
- Have a race on the night Luge at Skyline Gondola.
For more recommendations, check out the 25 Best Things to Do in Rotorua.
Accommodation in Rotorua
For more options, check out the 20 Best Budget Accommodations in Rotorua.
See more stays in The 50 Best Accommodations in Rotorua.
More lavish finds are available in the 20 Best Luxury Accommodations in Rotorua.
Day 2 – Explore Rotorua
Today you have the whole day to experience the geothermal, adventure and cultural hotspot of Rotorua. There’s something to suit every mood, taste and budget!
Things to Do in Rotorua
- Geysers, steaming lakes, bubbling mud, silica terraces and so much more can be seen in one of the many geothermal parks of Rotorua
- Catch a Maori cultural performance (if you missed doing so yesterday)
- Do some adrenaline activities
Zorb your way in a giant hamster ball down a hill, go luging from the top of the Skyline Gondola, hike or mountain bike in the Redwood Forest, jet boat or do a freefall experience at the Velocity Valley, and so much more!
- See native New Zealand wildlife at Wingspan or National Kiwi Hatchery (more info on Viator and Klook).
For more inspiration, get stuck into The Complete Guide to Rotorua.
Day 3 – Rotorua to Taupo
Drive time: 1 hour
Not too far from Rotorua is Taupo on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake! Again, there really is a lot to do here. If you want to skydive and/or bungy jump on the North Island then Taupo is a great place to do it. Plus, there are plenty of options to get out on the lake, relax in hot pools, see raging waterfalls and more!
Things to Do in Taupo
- Take a trip out on New Zealand’s largest lake, whether it’s fishing, kayaking, sailing, cruising or parasailing
- Bungy jump over the Waikato River with Taupo Bungy
- Do a skydive with Taupo Tandem Skydive
- Go on a white water rafting trip on the Tongariro River with Tongariro River Rafting
- Walk along the Waikato River to a natural hot pool at Spa Park, then onto Huka Falls
- Sail to the Maori Rock Carvings with Sail Barbary (more info on Viator and Klook).
For more inspiration, take a look at the 20 Best Things to Do in Taupo.
Accommodation in Taupo
Check out more options over at the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Taupo.
For more, check out the 20 Best Hotels & Places to Stay in Taupo.
Discover more upscale finds in the 15 Best Luxury Accommodations in Taupo.
Day 4 – Explore Taupo
Taupo offers a wide range of landscapes to explore, from New Zealand’s largest lake to the longest river to the volcanic Tongariro National Park. There’s so much to do here, so take your pick from the list below!
More Things to Do in Taupo
- Hike in the volcanic wonderland of the Tongariro Crossing. Shuttles are available with Tongariro Expeditions
- Explore the geothermal parks like Craters of the Moon or Orakei Korako
- Hit the Taupo bike trails
- Catch a trout on the Great Lake
- Take a swing at the Taupo Hole-in-One.
For more inspiration, see the 20 Best Things to Do in Taupo.
Day 5 – Taupo to Waitomo
Drive Time: 2 hours
Waitomo is a special place on the North Island with vast cave networks and breathtaking displays of glowworms. We recommend setting off early so you have time to make the most of the amazing experiences available. Good towns to stop by for rest and refreshments include Whakamaru and Te Kuiti.
Things to Do in Waitomo
- Explore the Waitomo caves with one of the 8 Best Waitomo Cave Tours
- Do a walking tour of the Ruakuri Cave or the Waitomo Glowworm Caves
- Do the Ruakuri Bush Walk at night to see glowworms
- Go on a caving adventure with Waitomo Adventures, The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. (more info on Viator and Klook) or Cave World Waitomo.
Check out the 15 Best Things to Do in Waitomo for more recommendations.
Accommodation in Waitomo
Learn more in the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Waitomo.
See more options in the 10 Best Hotels & Places to Stay in Waitomo.
Day 6 – Waitomo to Raglan
Drive time: 1 hr 20 mins
Raglan is the North Island’s bohemian town offering something for surfers, foodies or eco-conscious travellers. On the way there, stop by Otorohanga to see a kiwi bird and some of the quirky “kiwiana” attractions as listed in the 5 Best Things to Do in Otorohanga. You can also stop for refreshments at Pirongia and Whatawhata.
Things to Do in Raglan
- See the majestic Bridal Veil Falls (10-20 mins walk)
- Kayak or paddleboard to Raglan’s Pancake Rocks
- Learn to surf or hire a surfboard and hit the waves with Raglan Surf School
- Hike up Mt Karioi on the Mt Karioi Track or Wairake Track
- Visit the art galleries and Raglan Museum and enjoy the food scene.
For more information on each activity and for more recommendations, see the 15 Best Things to Do in Raglan.
Accommodation in Raglan
See more options in the 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in Raglan.
Day 7 – Raglan to Auckland Airport
Drive time: 2 hrs 15 mins
As reluctant as you may be, it’s time to hit the road back to Auckland Airport. Stop by Bridal Veil Falls on your way out of Raglan if you didn’t get the chance to see it yesterday.
If you have the time, drive into Hamilton and see the award-winning Hamilton Gardens. Then, the most direct route to Auckland Airport is via State Highway 1.
Next time, visit New Zealand for longer!
More New Zealand Itineraries for 1 Week / 7 Days
That’s the end of our New Zealand North Island road trip itinerary for 1 week / 7 days starting and ending in Auckland. If this itinerary didn’t take you fancy, see our alternative one-week itineraries:
- North Island 1 Week Road Trip Itinerary – Auckland to Wellington
- North Island Budget & Backpacking Itinerary: 1 Week
- North Island Luxury Itinerary: 1 Week
- North Island Food Itinerary: 1 Week
- North Island Family Itinerary: 1 Week
- North Island Honeymoon & Romance Itinerary: 1 Week
- New Zealand in 1 Week: Road Trip Itinerary
- How to Create the Perfect New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary
Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in The Best Travel Guide to New Zealand.