The North Island in New Zealand may not get as much hoopla as the South but that’s only because it’s simply overlooked by many travelers. Along with countless natural attractions, there are stunning vineyards and lovely warm ocean breezes—during our visit it even felt tropical!
We wish we could write our Oceania posts bragging about how budget-savvy we were, but Australia and New Zealand are tough on a backpacker’s budget. We joked that perhaps that’s why there are so many Aussie and Kiwi backpackers out in the world because even they can’t even afford their own country’s hostels!
Sure, we would have liked to spend more time in both countries, but with expensive wifi in the Cook Islands and New Zealand’s limited wifi, we were left scrambling to plan this portion of our trip. Due to the expensive nature of New Zealand, we opted to do a quick nine-night road trip through the North Island.
How to Plan Out a Trip to the North Island in New Zealand
Our itinerary below includes some of the best places to visit on the North Island in New Zealand. In previous travels, Harry and I explored the South Island of New Zealand on a 17-day holiday.
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We skipped the North Island then because everyone raved about how much better the South Island was. However, we were amazed at the natural beauty along with the exceptional vineyards that the North Island of New Zealand had to offer.
Due to an onward flight issue, we only had nine days to explore the North Island of New Zealand. After some research, we decided that this was the best one-week itinerary we could put together.
With only nine nights, we had to be fairly selective about what to see and do. Did we miss some things? Sure. However, some travel advice we received a long time ago which we adhere to is: “Never visit a country thinking that you have to see everything. It won’t happen and you’ll most likely end up feeling rushed and disappointed.”
Instead of planning out every minute, try allowing some time for spontaneous activity. Adding a bit of spare time into an itinerary can provide the freedom to explore at your own pace or in some rare cases, allow for mishaps like a flat tire.
This is the most popular tour in Auckland >> Dolphin and Whale Watching Eco-Safari Cruise
Based on our limited time we created a high-level itinerary that would include accommodation in the following cities:
- Matamata (Hobbiton)
Looking to Hire a Camper Van? Yeah, Probably Not a Good Option.
Many backpackers hire camper vans to explore the North Island in New Zealand on the cheap. However, after calculating the cost of the van, petrol (gas), camping supplies, etc., it would make more financial sense to rent a car and stay in budget-friendly accommodations.
While, of course, we’re not discouraging those travelers that actively seek out “van life.” Nevertheless, there’s no way living out of a van is a better option than staying in a cozy bed each night—especially, when the latter costs less.
Best Places to Visit on the North Island in New Zealand
Like many trips to New Zealand, our trip began at Auckland Airport, where we arrived late at night. We stayed at Sudima Auckland Airport Hotel and took advantage of the free shuttle the next morning to pick up our rental car.
We rented a car at Auckland Airport for about USD 20 per day through Discover Cars. From the airport, we were quickly shuttled to the car rental location. Believe it or not, this was the first time Harry had driven a car in over six months.
It’s no surprise that New Zealand is probably one of the most scenic countries to road trip through. By square miles, it’s quite possibly the most beautiful country in the world.
Every turn in the road brings another exclamation of, “Wow!” The good news is that you don’t even need to fill your days with crazy excursions or expensive activities since traversing the country can satisfyingly fill your days. However, there are a few must-do excursions, we’ll get to that in a minute.
With our rental car in hand, we were now on our way to our second night of accommodation in Whitianaga; however, our first stop was the Coromandel Peninsula.
Coromandel Peninsula – Stunning Beaches, Peaceful Nature, and Glistening Bays
After taking a scenic but brief drive through Auckland, we made our way to the Coromandel Peninsula. Northeastern New Zealand is known for having some of the best white-sand beaches in the country. As we drove through forests and rolling hills we were shocked and left in awe of the natural beauty around us.
This is one of the best tours in Whitianga >> Glass Bottom Boat Whitianga Cathedral Cove Cruise
Along the way, we stopped at several scenic lookouts and Hot Water Beach. It’s here during low tide, that visitors can dig holes into the sand to relish in their own personal naturally occurring thermal pool.
Whitianga – Beach Life
We proceeded to Whitianga where we booked the most awesome motel, Baileys At The Beach. Situated on the beach with views of Mercury Bay, Baileys was home away from home. It felt as if we had our own private apartment and the hosts were great!
We enjoyed the amazing patio with views of the ocean at dinner and then breakfast. We went to the local grocery store and bought a bottle of local wine and paired it with some meat, cheese, pestos, and bread accompaniments for dinner under the stars.
Matamata – Gateway to “Lord of the Rings”
As fans of “Lord of the Rings,” we were excited to tour the filming location in Matamata. Essentially, guests are invited to tour the “The Shire,” a 12-acre movie set that includes Hobbit Holes and the Green Dragon Inn.
Visiting on St. Patrick’s Day made the experience extra festive and fun. For those travelers without a rental car, there are Small-Group Hobbiton Movie Set Tours from Auckland with Lunch. Of course, the experience is a bit of a tourist trap but it’s so interesting to walk the set and get a sense of the amount of detail put into it.
We stayed at one of the highest-rated and most affordable accommodations in Matamata, the Tower Road Motel. It was comfortable and served the purpose after a long day exploring The Shire!
4. Taupo – Living Lake Life
Our next stop was Taupo which is considered the Queenstown of the North Island. There are tons to do along the lake and tourists could easily spend a couple of weeks here. For example, if you’re an adrenaline junkie this is one of the few places on the North Island to get your adventure fix.
Orakei Korato – Get Geothermal
However, on the way down to Taupo we made a quick detour to take a self-guided geothermal tour at Orakei Korako Cave and Thermal Park. As one of the most impressive geothermal areas in New Zealand, Orakei Korako showcases silica terraces, mud pools, and gushing geysers.
Along with the largest lake in New Zealand, Taupo also has the longest river flowing through it, the Waikato River. One of the highlights in the area is Huka Falls, the most-visited natural attraction in New Zealand.
The gradually declining falls are caused by the Waikato River going from a width of about 325 feet wide to 50 feet. On the Huka Falls Bridge, visitors can feel the rush of 58,000 gallons flowing past them per second—it could fill up an Olympic size swimming pool in about 11 seconds.
One of the most thrilling activities to do in the area is to go jet boating on the Waikato River—getting up close and personal with Huka Falls. It’s tons of fun. We went jet boating during our previous trip to the South Island a few years prior and didn’t feel the urge to splurge. Nevertheless, we enjoyed watching passengers dart across the water near the falls.
Taupo – McDonald’s
It’s not often that travelers would recommend a fast-food restaurant, but consider a stop at one of the world’s coolest McDonald’s in the world. Its claim to fame is a decommissioned DC 3 airplane coming out of the front of the restaurant where visitors are welcome to dine inside of, kind of cool!
Budget Tip: There is a free spa thermal park at the Spa Thermal Park and Riverbank Recreational and Scenic Reserve. There’s no need to visit other thermal pools if you’re simply looking for the experience. Especially, when you can get the same experience for free.
Conveniently located on the lake and in downtown Taupo, the Acacia Lake View Motel is the perfect place to enjoy an affordable trip to the area.
Tongariro National Park
Just south of Lake Taupo is Tongariro National Park, a World Heritage Area, and New Zealand’s oldest National Park. With three volcanoes sitting in a row (Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu), the scenery here is dramatic, to say the least.
Hikers can complete the 12-mile Tongariro Alpine Crossing which takes about seven steady hours of trekking in good weather. Visitors with limited time can take the 2-hour loop trail to Taranaki Falls. Tongariro can be explored from one of two main areas, 1.) Ohakune township and Turoa Ski Resort to the south, and 2.) Whakapapa villages and National Park on the western side of the mountains.
Napier – 1930s Art Deco
As the final city of a tour of the North Island, Napier was like driving through a time warp. Known for its 1930s Art Deco style, it was a fantastic place to visit while touring some of the nearby Hawk’s Bay wineries.
With so many wineries offering free tastings, it can get overwhelming to decide where to taste first. After some consideration, we decided to visit Mission Estate Winery. After a tasting, we ordered a bottle of Syrah and a delicious bread platter. Soaking up the atmosphere, we relaxed and took pleasure in the food, wine, and sunny day in the vineyards.
Explore the Hawkes Valley wine region >> Afternoon Wine & Gin Tasting Tour + Optional Beer Tasting
For the record, we made a few additional pitstops at Moana Hill, Pask, Black Barn, and Craggy Range; where we also complete tastings.
Interestingly, we were lucky to tour Hawk’s Bay wineries because all were offering tastings from the “vintage of a lifetime,” 2013. This moniker was granted because 2013 was the driest growing season in 70 years. Moreover, it had the sunniest first three months of the year since 1930.
Rumors have it, that the last time conditions were this good was back in 1978. So if you have gotten this far in our write-up, you have a great inside scoop. If you see anything from 2013 Hawke’s Bay, drink it!
Te Mata Peak – View of Hawke’s Bay
Just across the street from Craggy Range winery is Te Mata Peak. A paved road easily takes visitors to the top and provides exceptional views of the area. Moreover, for those looking for a cardio workout, there are some great biking and hiking trails.
While in Napier, we stayed at Asure Colonial Lodge Motel. With amenities similar to a really nice Route 66 motel, the Colonial Lodge is the ideal accommodation in Napier for travelers.
We jumped at the opportunity to cook in the kitchen, enjoy the picnic tables with free coffee, and clean all our laundry before leaving New Zealand. The staff helps visitors plan their time in the area. At less than USD 100 per night, this super trendy accommodation was a great choice to explore wine country.
Would you like to know the total cost of our trip to the North Island in New Zealand? When including all expenses including lodging, car rental, petrol, meals, etc., it came to USD 167 per day, respectively.
6 thoughts on “Best Places to Visit on the North Island in New Zealand in 2023”
Another place on my list! Thanks every so much for your great tips, blog, and photos! 😀
I’m so glad you found us! Do you want to connect on Instagram?
It sure is!
North Island is such a great place. New Zealand has got a lot to offer.
A friend of mine did a camper van trip and I always liked the sound of it but I think your right. It isn’t very budget friendly.
Pics are amazing. Great post, thanks for sharing!
Or comfortable! You either ARE camper van people….or you’re not. We’re not! 🙂 Why sleep in a van when you can sleep in a bed with a toilet is what we always say. Thanks for stopping by. We did a lot of research to find budget friendly accommodations. Hopefully that will help others planning on doing a similar road trip. Safe travels!
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