Welcome to my travel guide to North Island, New Zealand! The North Island of New Zealand lies loads of hidden gems that makes it a worthwhile place to visit! It is where I spent half of my Working Holiday at, and I had so much great memories there! It is home to the rich Maori culture of New Zealand, and to the magical Middle Earth™ where Hobitton™ lives. There are also many activities you can engage in, from the adventurous soul in you to the side of you that just wants to relax, North Island has everything you are looking for. The best part is if you’re looking to travel during winter to spring, you can enjoy longer days here on this island as compared to the South.
So what are you waiting for? Check out my travel guide to North Island, New Zealand below!
10 to 15 days Itinerary in North Island, New Zealand
For this North Island travel guide, you can arrive in either Auckland or Wellington, and spend around 10 to 15 days to complete it. You can pick where you want to go from the recommended highlights below and that would determine the length of your trip!
This is also designed with the assumption that you’ll be comfortable to drive around on your own. You can rent a 4WD (4-wheel drive), sedan or even a caravan. Be rest assured too that the roads are really easy to navigate around too! The route I recommend based on a round trip back to Auckland would be as such:
Iconic Highlights of North Island, New Zealand
This North Island travel guide covers what I would consider the iconic places and must-go highlights while you’re there:
1. Experience the highest skydive of NZ at Bay of Islands
Skydiving in New Zealand, what’s new? The Skydive experience at Bay of Islands is the highest skydive in New Zealand at 20,000ft. This gives you an opportunity to experience 85 seconds of free fall! THAT’s NEW!!! The view there is also unbelievably beautiful as you get a panoramic view of all 144 islands that make up the Bay of Islands as you dive down from the sky. You can book your experience with Skydive Bay of Islands and even learn to skydive solo in less than a day if that’s your cup of tea. Thinking about it already makes me nervous but I’m sure would be an unforgettable experience!
If jumping out of a plane is not for you, then get on the relaxing cruise of the Bay with The Cream Trip. It’s a full day cruise and includes island visits, dolphin watching and even boom-netting alongside the boat if you’re keen to get into the water.
2. Explore Middle-earth like the Hobbits
Matamata is where Middle-earth of Lord of The Ring resides in and is a must-go for any LOTR fan. I had such a great time exploring the hobbit-sized village and just hopping around exploring the entire area. It was like re-living the scenes of the movie in real life. The Green Dragon Inn™ also looked exactly like how it was in the movies (duh)! I was so excited getting myself a drink there and imagining myself as part of the hobbits in the tavern. Talk about having a great imagination! HAHA!
If you have the time, you can also get on an evening dinner tour at the Shire and enjoy a banquet feast in the Green Dragon dining room. The views of Hobbiton is stunning under moonlight and the glowing lanterns in the darkness. I wished I did this tour when I was there but I ran out of time since I was rushing to get to work the next day. If you plan to do this, do note to book it early before arriving since spaces are really limited!
3. Admire the “Starry Sky” in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Waitomo is known for its glowworms and other adventurous activities such as Black Water Rafting and Cave Abseiling. I initially thought Black Water Rafting was rafting in literally, black waters. HAHA! I learnt after that it meant sitting on a tube and exploring the caves in the dark! I did mine at Waitomo Caves with the Legendary Black Water Rafting Co. as we did some cave exploration then tubing in the dark while admiring the “starry sky” of glow worms.
I remembered it was really cold even when we were there around December, when it was actually still summer. Somehow it was unexpectedly cold but once we were in it, the adrenaline from exploring underground caves in the dark just made me forget the cold. There were times we had to crawl on our belly to get through tight tunnels, and also times when we had to wade through water up to chest level to move forward. The trial was challenging yet full of surprises. Would totally recommend you add it to your itinerary if you’re up for some adventure!
You can even get on an abseiling experience with Waitomo Adventures if you want something more nerve-wrecking! I’m sure your heart would be racing every minute with the adrenaline! Otherwise, a simple glowworm experience at the Glowworm Cave tour on a relaxing boat also works for the relaxed soul.
4. Hike up Mount Fuji’s twin – Mount Taranaki
You’ll find the twin of Mount Fuji, Japan here at Taranaki. I recommend hiking across the 19km one-way Pouakai Crossing track to get to the beautiful untouched landscapes of Mount Taranaki. It is one of New Zealand’s best one-day walks and would take you a full eight hours! Make sure you look out for the small mountain tarn with the perfect reflection of the mountain peak. That view is just magical! Take note too that this is an advanced hike, so make sure you’re mentally and physically prepared for the mountaineous conditions there.
Apart from hiking the beautiful Mount Taranaki, this place also has its artistic side to it too. You may want to visit the Len Lye Centre, New Zealand’s first museum dedicated to the work of a single artist. It is best known for its kinetic artworks rendered in stainless steel that you can already see from a distance before you even step foot into the museum. Admission costs $15 and would be perfect for the creative souls!
5. Do the Great Walk at Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the best hikes I’ve done in New Zealand. Although the journey was arduous and long, it was such an unforgettable experience. To date, I still remember that feeling of satisfaction when I conquered the highest point of the track! Why should you visit the Tongariro Alpine Crossing? The views are definitely what makes it such a unique hike, and it being Mordor of LOTR just made it a hike that I cannot miss! (Yes, I’m an LOTR fan if you don’t already know from Hobbiton above.)
It was also the first hike I did that I thought required a lot of preparation and research beforehand. From your accommodation, departure time, to where to park your car, that was all necessary to plan for to ensure a smooth-sailing hike. If you’re slightly late, you may end up with no space to park your car and result in delays to your whole schedule. That may not be ideal considering how popular the track is! Have a quick read of my Tongariro research and planning to know what to expect during your journey there too.
6. Pedal the Rails of the Forgotten World Highway at Taumarunui
The Forgotten World Highway (SH43) travels 148km from Stratford to Taumaranui. I came across this Rail Cart pedalling then when I was looking for day trips out from Napier during my working holiday. It turned out to be really fun as we pedalled on our own Rail Cart through the old train tracks, enjoying the breathtaking landscapes steeped in history and stories.
I recommend going for the Tokirima 10 tour with Forgotten World Adventures. It is a 40km long track where you’ll go pass 10 hand-dug tunnels and over 25 bridges! Don’t worry about pedalling 40km since the guide would come by from the back on an electric motor rail cart and push us through at times. I enjoyed that the most especially when we were going upslope. I could literally hear my thighs screaming “thank you”! Our trip then ended with a light snack of brownies, cakes and drinks at Tokirima before heading back.
7. Hike the Sugar Loaf Hill at Napier
Napier is a tiny little town with enough to keep you busy. It is a place known for its historic architecture and beautiful panoramic ocean views at the Bluff Hill Lookout. I would recommend going to the Sugar Loaf Hill to catch stunning views of the sunset. It is an easy hike with a bit of gradient, and takes you less than an hour! Perfect for when you only have half a day here at Napier. There’s also the beautiful Napier beach just right up the town if you’re up for some suntanning or book-by-the-beach kind of holiday. Also, if you happen to be driving here on a Saturday morning,make sure you visit the Urban Farmer’s Market just right by the City Centre too!
My favorite and a must-go place in Napier would be the Hawke’s Bay Rush Munro Ice cream parlour. It is only available in Hawke’s Bay and was recommended to me by my local homestay family then. I may be exegerrating but that was the best ice cream I’ve ever had! If you ever go, please try my favorite Maple Walnut flavour then. You won’t regret it!
8. Catch the First Sunrise of New Zealand at Gisborne
Gisborne is the first town to receive the first sunrise of New Zealand each day. I would recommend you to spend the day at Napier and drive up to Gisborne to spend the night there. Then, prepare for an early morning the next day to catch that first rays of the beautiful big sun from the Okitu Bush Scenic Reserve. That was the biggest I’ve ever seen of the sun with my naked eyes and that view was just indescribable. You just have to do this if you’re in the North Island!
Then go catch some sleep again or have a leisure breakfast before heading out. When you’re ready to start your journey again, consider going for the Tatapouri Reef Ecology Tour – New Zealand’s only wild stingray encounter! I would love to try it but I ran out of time then, so let me know how your experience went. Otherwise, if you prefer a relaxing afternoon and coincidentally loves wine, go ahead with Cycle Gisborne! They provide a great option to cycle and taste wine here in the third-largest wine-producing region of New Zealand.
9. Paddle on a Singapore-sized Lake at Taupo
Taupo is another beautiful place of the North with Lake Taupo being the centre of attraction (at least to me). You can choose to engage in simple water activities like Stand-Up Paddling (SUP) on the calm waters. It is a really relaxing way to spend your morning before brunch in the City Centre. Otherwise, you could also kayak around the Western Bays of Lake Taupo towards the Maori Rock Carvings at Mine Bay. It’s a spectacular view there too, I promise!
If your muscles are sore from all the physical acvitivies in the earlier part of this trip, I would recommend going for a dip in the geothermal hot pools in Taupo! This will be a good way to relax your muscles and soak away all your aches and pains. You can also visit Huka Falls and hear the powerful and therapeutic gushes of the waterfall. I loved how it was such a beautiful shade of blue too, so make sure you feast your eyes on them too!
10. Drop down the Highest Commercially Rafted Waterfall at Rotorua
Need more adrenaline-packed activities in your itinerary? Consider white water rafting at Rotorua! I did mine with Kaitiaki Adventures and we dropped through three waterfalls and countless rapids in the entire trial. It included a free fall down the world-renowned 7 metre Tutea Fallls, the Highest Commercially Rafted Waterfall in the World. I was literally grabbing on to every rope I could find on the raft to avoid flying out. The guide even said we might overturn and capsize if we’re unlucky during the drop. I’m so grateful that all ended well as we landed on the raft’s bottom despite that crazy last drop.
Rotorua is also a place rich with Maori culture, another iconic part of New Zealand! You’ve got to visit the Tamaki Village if you want to get a first-hand experience of traditional Māori life. That’s when you can learn the haka dance, taste and make a hangi, and enjoy incredible performances all in this village. This is definitely a place for cultural lovers!
11. Go through the Cathedral Cove at Coromandel
Coromandel is located close to the coast and hence, definitely a place for some scenic coastal activities. You can dive or kayak at the famous Cathedral Cove. It is known for the cathedral-like tunnel splitting up two white sand beaches. Or, you can also choose to take the 7-hour Coromandel Coastal walk. This return track allows you to immerse in the full beauty and solitude of the Coromandel Peninsula. Definitely recommended if you just enjoy the peace and serenity of a forest walk.
One other interesting way of experiencing nature is at the Coromandel Hot Water Beach. A natural spring runs beneath this beach and if you start digging, you will end up with your own creation of a hot mineral pool in the sands. How does relaxing in your own spa pool meters from the Pacific Ocean sound to you? I’m sure it must be a unique way to enjoy the beach!
12. Visit the Island of Wine from Auckland
Auckland is a beautiful city with many festivals, weekend fresh produce markets, great food and of course, wine! I enjoyed exploring the City Centre on foot since that exercise gave me the excuse to indulge in the food there. Also, do check out Summernova for the full line-up of activities for the year planned out in Auckland.
For the nature lover who prefers the quiet nature over the bustling city, I recommend you to drive west for 50 minutes towards Piha. It is a place known for its black sand beaches where you can choose to either relax on the beach, surf or even explore the walks within the surrounding hills. Otherwise just a 40-minutes ferry ride away from Auckland also lies Waiheke Island, the ultimate island retreat best known as the ‘Island of Wine’. Here you can choose to go on a wine tasting tour amidst the many wineries and vineyards. After having your fill, you can take a breezy walk along the beaches or the walking trails too. How relaxing would that be!
How to get to the North Island, New Zealand?
In this North Island travel guide, you can start from either Auckland or Wellington. You might even want to fly in to Wellington and leave from Auckland so you don’t have to do a round trip back to where you started from. Take note that costs included here are purely estimates from pre-Covid and may differ when travel opens once again!
1. Arrive at Auckland
There are both direct and indirect flights from Singapore to Auckland, although indirect flights are usually more affordable. They usually go through Australia so you might want to combine it with a short trip to Australia too if time allows! It takes around 10 hours 30 minutes for a direct flight and costs about S$1.5k to S$1.8k for a return trip. An indirect flight takes about 13 hours and costs slightly cheaper, at about S$1k to S$1.2k for a return flight.
2. Arrive at Wellington
Flights are usually cheaper for flights to Wellington as there are no direct flights from Singapore. It can costs as low as S$800 during a travel deal, and probably at S$1.4k on a normal day. So if you’re on a budget, I would recommend taking this route, then driving upwards. The only bane is the longer drives, and maybe some tweaks to your itinerary so you can consider exploring other cities along the way like Gisborne, Napier etc.
Getting around North Island, New Zealand
1. Driving on a Road trip
This travel guide is designed with the intention for you to explore the North Island by driving on your own. I would recommend driving in New Zealand if you’re confident and have a current driver’s licence to drive there. That’s because it’s really much easier to plan your itinerary to your own comfort without having to match it to timings of public transportation. Also, having a vehicle means you don’t have to pack and carry your belongings everyday as you shift locations.
The roads are generally good and easy to drive on with the light traffic volumes. Majority of the roads only have two lanes, so remember to give way if the car behind is going at a speed you’re uncomfortable at. Also always note to follow the speed limits! You won’t want to incur a hefty fine while on a fun and relaxing trip. Parking is also nearly free at every place except for cities like Auckland.
2. Utilising the Extensive Bus Networks
Don’t worry if you have no driver’s license though, you can still get around the North Island with their extensive bus networks. Although this option may be slightly more physically draining with the need to bring your luggages around, it is still doable. The Intercity bus is a great option as it stops at numerous points around the Island and is affordable too if you’re on a budget!
Best time to visit North Island, New Zealand
The best time to visit North Island, New Zealand for this travel guide in my opinion is during Summer (December to March) or Autumn (March to May). It is the best to explore the North when it is sunny and when the weather is clear. Views of sunrises and sunsets will be amazing. Also, you will not want to be exploring the Waitomo caves or raft in the waters of Rotorua while freezing in the cold.
Top 8 Items You Must Pack for North Island, New Zealand
Here is my recommended packing list for this travel guide to North Island. Depending on the season you’re there at, you will experience a wide range of temperatures in a span of a day. Different places would also experience a different range of temperatures even during the same season. For example, summer in Napier and Rotorua or Waitomo felt so different. We were sunburnt in Napier but literally freezing in Rotorua. Hence, I would recommend layering of clothes and the following eight items that you must pack for your trip:
For your daily comfort
- A Lightweight Down Jacket – This is perfect in keeping you warm while hiking, especially at Tongariro or even at Mount Taranaki. Pick a waterproof and windproof one if you have, otherwise, feel free to pack in another light poncho.
- Light Exercise Clothes – I would recommend packing in a few stretchable leggings and sports wear to help you through the various hikes and activities like white water rafting or even skydiving.
- Hiking bag – Make sure you bring a comfortable hiking bag of at least 30 litres if you’re going for a full day hike or even a multi-day hike like that at Taranaki. Make sure you get one that fits your body structure and that it rests well on your shoulders. This will make your hike much easier!
- Strong Torchlight/ Headlight – Get those that you can hang around your neck or a headlight so your hands are free. This will help you to navigate around the tracks more easily as you never know when your free hands might come in handy.
- Air-tight containers – For your leftover fresh food if you’re planning to cook while travelling.
- Wet Wipes or Hand Sanitisers – This will be especially useful before you tuck into your meals each day since you’ll be outdoors a lot.
For your memories
- Camera and Tripod – For all your memories of course! You’ll love all the photos you take during this whole trip because everything just looks so surreal and pretty. Photos don’t really do the sceneries justice.
- Portable Charger – This, to me, is an essential item for New Zealand. Road trips around New Zealand tend to take up one full day, and you would rely heavily on your devices for navigation. Unless you’re very certain your rental vehicle would have suitable charging ports, otherwise, make sure you prepare one for your mobile devices and cameras.
Budgeting for North Island, New Zealand
This budget is based off an itinerary for 10 days in this travel guide to North Island. I’ve included all the activities mentioned above for your easy reference. However, do plan for the activities accordingly to your budget and the time you have at each location.
|Flight from Singapore to Christchurch
|Accommodation (per person based on a twin room using Airbnb mainly)
|Fuel for 10 days
|Cash (for food, souvenirs etc.)
|500 – 800
|375 – 600
|– Skydiving at Bay of Islands (20,000ft)
|– Bay of Islands – The Cream Trip Cruise
|– Hobbiton Movie Set Tour / Evening Banquet Tour
|89 – 199
|65 – 150
|– Black Water Rafting at Waitomo
|– Taumarunui Forgotten World Highway Rail Cart Tour
|– Stand-Up Paddling (SUP) on Lake Taupo (for one hour)
|– Taupo Geothermal Hot Pools Entrance
|– Rotorua White Water Rafting
|– Cathedral Cove Kayak Tour
|4,365 – 4,775
|3,288 – 3,598
Visa requirements to New Zealand
You don’t need a visa to travel to New Zealand if you’re from one of these Visa Waiver countries. Singapore is fortunately included as one of these countries and with this, all you would need is:
- An NZeTA (Electronic Travel Authority) – Takes up to 72 hours for processing. It would cost you NZD $9 on the Immigration NZ free mobile app, or NZD $12 if completed online.
- You also pay an International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy (IVL) at the same time as your NZeTA. This would cost you NZD $35.
Hope you’ve enjoyed reading my travel guide to North Island, New Zealand! May it be helpful in creating a memorable trip for you~