Discover Waitomo’s incredible limestone cave system, with night walks to see the glow worms – or better yet, some underground black-water rafting. Watch geysers erupt on traditional Maori lands in Rotorua, and take the Maori experience to the next level with an optional cultural performance and traditional hangi feast. This trip has plenty of spectacular waterfalls, but Huka Falls is one you’ll want to pack the camera for. Get up close and personal with this foaming blue powerhouse en route to Taupo. The Tongariro Crossing is simply New Zealand’s greatest hike, with scenery that must be seen to be believed. And with a cosy mountain lodge as a base, there’s plenty of time to unwind before and after in the spa
The South Island may have larger-than-life landscapes, but the North Island has a bit of everything. Discover the best of New Zealand’s North Island – with a taste of the South Island too – on this action-packed and well-rounded Kiwi adventure from Auckland to Christchurch. Soak up the summer vibes in the Bay of Islands with kayaking and stunning short walks; experience Waitomo’s glow worm-riddled caves; learn the ancient ways of the Maori people in geyser-rich Rotorua; hike the iconic Tongariro Crossing at Mt Ruapehu; visit Wellington’s superb Te Papa museum; explore Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park; and go dolphin and whale watching in Kaikoura. With so many options packed into this 12-day itinerary, this is the North Island at its finest.
Kia-ora! Welcome to New Zealand. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm – ask the hotel reception for the details. As soon as you arrive in this beautiful harbourside town you're surrounded by friendly locals, volcanoes and a strong sense of Maoritanga (the Maori way of life). There is a distinct Pacific flavour to the 'City of Sails' and this can be seen in the streets and the local markets. The waterfront region, built to its current state for the America's Cup sailing challenges, is now a well-frequented local bar and restaurant hub. If you have extra time you can take a day trip to one of the many outer islands in the Hauraki Gulf, hike to one of the 22 nearby volcanoes, or keep it simple with a stroll and a coffee (the lively Ponsonby area is just a short walk away).
Bay of Islands
Departing Auckland this morning, head north to the beautiful Bay of Islands (approximately 4 hours; 225 kilometres). There's some beautiful scenery along the way, so sit back and enjoy the rolling green hills as your leader explains a bit about this part of New Zealand and what's coming on the journey ahead. There will be stops in small towns so you can stretch your legs and grab a snack. Arriving in Paihia, where we'll spend the night, settle into your accommodation and enjoy the sea breeze. This afternoon is a good time to get to know your fellow travellers – perhaps over one of New Zealand's many renowned white wines or small-batch craft beers. It's also a good time to peruse the list of Bay of Islands optional activities, as there are lots to choose from.
Bay of Islands
Whether you're kayaking under a waterfall, cruising in search of seabirds, taking photos from stunning lookout points, or exploring historic towns and sites, the Bay of Islands is a delight to explore. Cruising to Roberton Island is a good option – you'll get a sense of the area's rich history from local guides. The Bay of Islands is where the treaty of Waitangi was signed between 500 Maori chiefs and the British Crown, and a trip to the Treaty Grounds to learn more about this is well worth your time. The town of Russell is also a great spot to visit. Russell used to be called the Hellhole of the North; it was a seedy hangout for drunken sailors, back when it was the capital city. Now it's a lovely seaside town full of history and atmosphere (look out for the gigantic Moreton Bay Fig Tree, planted in 1870).
Embrace an early start as you make your way back down south, to Waitomo. We'll be travelling back through Auckland, crossing the harbour bridge for a fantastic view of the 'City of Sails'. After stopping for lunch in Auckland, continue to Waitomo, where you'll stay right among the hills in a cosy mountain cabin. Waitomo is perhaps most famous for its limestone caves and stunning glow worms. Blackwater rafting in the caves may be possible as early as this evening, and it's an unforgettable experience. If you choose this optional activity, you'll jump into a wetsuit and descend with your local guide into a cave at dusk, then float along an underground stream in an old inflatable tyre tube (your trusty 'raft'). Along the way there are glow worms (which you'll learn more about from the guide) glittering on the walls of the cave. There's plenty of time for a warm shower and a nice meal afterwards. The local pub (just next door to your accommodation) has a great selection of beers and a menu of hearty pub classics; the organic cafe nearby is also a great choice for dinner.
After spending some more time in Waitomo this morning, head to Rotorua after lunch. In Rotorua we'll see geysers and boiling mud pools in an amazing display of mother earth's power. This all happens at Te Puia, site of the New Zealand Arts and Crafts Institute. The geysers here erupt regularly, and the Maori guides will show you around, explaining the significance of this land to their ancestors. You can view a rare Kiwi bird here and learn more about New Zealand's great efforts to conserve them. This evening there's the option of a traditional Maori Hangi dinner at Mitai Village, a Maori village where a troupe of perormers dazzle with their tribal singining and dancing. Before you leave Rotorua, consider going zip-lining through the nearby virgin native forest. It's a great chance to not only get some thrills from up high out in nature, but learn the ins and outs of local efforts to save the Kiwi bird.
Taupo - Mt Ruapehu
Head south to Taupo, home of extreme sports on the North Island. On the way we visit the spectacular Huka Falls, a lush stream that cascades powerfully underneath a viewing bridge. This is one for the photographers. In Taupo there's the opportunity to go jet-boating, or simply relax by the world's biggest crater lake. We then drive on to Mt Ruapehu to get ready for our next day's activities. You're situated in the heart of the wilderness up here, in cosy lodgings with a spa and an excellent restaurant on site. It's a nice opportunity to relax before some hiking tomorrow. Those doing the Tongariro Crossing tomorrow will want to get a good rest.
There are several options for today, the major one being the Tongariro Crossing. If you'd rather do something less rigorous, however, there are many shorter and easily accessible hikes on offer (see the reception at your lodge for more infomation). Those hiking the Tongariro Crossing – brace yourself for adventure. This is a full day hike and people should have a decent level of fitness to take it on. It's well worth the labour – it's considered NZ´s best one day hike and has fantastic views along the way, with crater lakes and majestic mountain landscapes to admire. It's quite strenuous though, and 20 kilometres long, so it's best to prepare for all kinds of weather and eat a solid breakfast first!
Departing the National Park, we head through the central north island to the capital city, Wellington. With more eateries per capita than New York City, Wellington is a fantastic place for foodies. It's also home to the world-class Te Papa Tongarewa museum, which we'll visit while we're here. As well as stunning Maori artifacts and contemporary art collections, the museum boasts the largest specimen of colossal squid. Captured in 2007, it weighs in around 495 kg. In your free time, perhaps jump in the cable car to the Botanic Gardens for some spectacular views of Wellington city and harbour. Be sure to take a walk down Cuba Street, hip strip of cafes, boutiques and bars that has something for everyone.
Notes: Total driving time is around four and a half hours (approximately 330kms).
Today we cross to the South Island on the inter island ferry and enjoy the incredible scenery of the Marlborough Sounds. While the Bay of Islands enjoys its 'Winterless North' tag, it's actually Nelson that enjoys the sunniest weather in all of New Zealand. We have a huge variety of activities to choose from here, including kayaking, boating and sailing around Abel Tasman National Park. Nelson is very picturesque, but also has plenty of great dining options and art galleries, so don't be afraid to kick back and relax if you want to take a break from outdoor activities.
Notes: Total driving time is around two hours (approximately 130kms).
Today is a great opportunity to visit Abel Tasman National Park (optional). Its bushwalking tracks, weaving among the gorgeous inlets and coves, are just begging to be explored, and a ride in a water taxi is a must-do. Have plenty of space left on your memory card, because the photo opportunities are many. Abel Tasman National Park is actually New Zealand's smallest national park, but that's one of the great things about it. It's easy to relax on the beach, go kayaking among the seabirds (gannets, blue penguins, cormorants), or dive straight into a brisk walk in the forest. There's an interesting old Maori fortress to visit also.
Leaving Nelson, head for the beautiful coastline of Kaikoura where many adventures await. Perhaps best of all is the whale and dolphin watching. For many travellers this will be a highlight of the trip, and the chances of making sightings are quite high. Also keep an eye out for petrels, New Zealand fur seals, and dolphins. Other optional activities include swimming with dolphins, fishing, and albatross-viewing tours. If you want to really take the adventure up a notch, scenic flights are also possible. In the evening, consider trying the excellent local seafood, such as crayfish. After all, you're in the town named after it ('kai' means food and 'koura' means crayfish).
Notes: Total driving time is around four hours (approximately 240kms).
Travel on to Christchurch, where the adventure finishes at approximately 6 pm.
Notes: Total driving time is around three hours (approximately 160kms).