After researching different transport and accommodation options, we opted to travel New Zealand by camper van, giving us the freedom to take things at our own pace. After a month of driving from Auckland and ending in Christchurch, I can wholeheartedly say that New Zealand offers some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen in my life. We only had a week to cram in everything that we wanted to do on the North Island, so needless to say there was plenty more to do that we couldn’t fit into this time. Below is my 1 week itinerary of stops that you absolutely can’t miss on the North Island.
Day 1 – Arrive in Auckland
We arrived at Auckland airport early in the morning after two flights including a long stopover in Melbourne. Unfortunately, due to a cancelled flight, it meant that we had lost a day in New Zealand, so we didn’t get to explore the city of Auckland as planned. Instead we spent the day stocking up on food for our camper and catching up on sleep, ready to start our adventure the following day.
Day 2 – Hobbiton and Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
If you are a Lord of the Rings fan then you will have most certainly heard about Hobbiton. The set itself is a real farm based just outside of Matamata, and is home to the Alexander family, as well as The Shire, where the set now remains as part of the farm after the making of The Hobbit films. Tickets often sell out, so we made sure to get ours online well in advance. We had booked on for the first tour of the day, which meant that it was fairly quiet on our way round, and we could get some good photos without hundreds of people in the background. When we were leaving at the end of our tour, the visitors centre was packed out with people, so I would definitely recommend going for the first or last tour of the day to avoid the crowds. Tickets cost $79 dollars each, which we thought was quite fair for a two hour tour, and also includes a drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) in the Green Dragon Inn at the end of the tour. Our tour guide was great and incredibly knowledgeable, answering all of our questions and making sure that everyone had the chance to take pictures with the Hobbit holes. Even if you aren’t a huge Lord of the Rings fan, it’s still a great day out and incredible to see how the farm was transformed for the films.
After an exciting morning, we headed over to Waitomo, to see the famous glow worm caves. There are 3 different caves where you will be taken on a fully guided tour, explaining the history of the caves. The cost of the tours vary in price, depending on how many of the caves you want to see. As we got a free ticket included in the booking of our campervan, we opted for the full three cave tour. I hadn’t researched much about the tours before we went, so I was just expecting to see some glow worms, but I ended up learning so much more than I expected about the history of the caves and the glow worms. If you are planning to visit the caves I would highly recommend booking the three cave combo package, as each of the caves offers something different.
Day 3 – Rotorua / Wai O Tapu
Rotorua is best known for its sulphur pools and geothermal activity, and just driving through we were amazed to see steam coming out of the ground all over the place. There are a few different geothermal parks in Rotorua where you can go and see the incredible sulphur pools for yourselves (if you can stand the smell long enough, that is). We were recommended to visit the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, where you can view the Lady Knox Geyser erupting at 10.15am each day. We went on a Saturday afternoon, so were expecting it to be quite busy, but found that we practically had the whole place to ourselves (this could have been due to it being a particularly miserable day). Despite the rain, we spent a few hours wandering around and admiring the vibrant colours of all the different pools. This does come at a cost of $33 per adult, but after experiencing how incredible it was we found that it was absolutely justified, as you can see for yourself in the pictures below.
Day 4 – Taupo
The main reason for many travellers visiting Taupo is to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, but the town itself has so much more to offer. If you’re looking for free stuff to do you can head over to Huka Falls, New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction, or visit Spa Park natural hot pools, which are both completely free of charge. There are also of a range of paid hot pools that you can visit, and we chose to spend a lazy Sunday at the Wairakei Thermal hot pools, which have their own silica terraces and mineral enriched water, which left our skin feeling amazing afterwards.
Day 5 – Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Probably the highlight of our time on the North Island, we unwittingly ended up doing this 7 hour day hike on the first day of the winter season. We booked our transport through http://www.tongariroexpeditions.com/ and were advised that due to the heavy snowfall in the days before our hike, the best option would be to hire hiking boots, crampons and a hiking pole. Thank god we listened, because they quite literally saved our lives by stopping us from sliding down the mountain in our trainers. I won’t lie, the hike was HARD, and made even harder by the snow and heavy boots. There were points where I did think that I would have to turn back, but after climbing the Devil’s Staircase (they call it that for a reason), I found that the rest of the hike got easier as it went on. As painful as it was, I was so glad that I didn’t give up, if only for the incredible feeling of achievement when we reached the finish line, and we also wouldn’t have been able to get these awesome photos!
Day 6 – Wellington
The last stop on our North Island road trip, and where we would be getting the ferry from to the South Island in a few days time, Wellington was the first proper city we really got to see in New Zealand after missing out on Auckland. After a week of having hours at a time without even seeing any other cars, it was a little surreal driving into a busy city and getting stuck in traffic.
We continued our Middle Earth tour of New Zealand with a trip to the Weta Workshop, where they created all of the special effects and props for the Lord of The Rings and Hobbit films, as well as many others. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting when we arrived but the workshop itself is located next to a school in the middle of a housing estate, with giant trolls outside in the middle of the street – very cool! The workshop tour itself was amazing, and our tour guide had some incredible stories to tell. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take any pictures inside due to copyright restrictions, but I did manage to get a couple of the trolls outside.
After our visit to the Weta workshop we headed over to the Te Papa National Museum of New Zealand. We were blown away by this place, it was seriously massive, and even better, completely FREE! We spent about 4 hours here, but you could easily spend a whole day wandering around all of the different expeditions. The museum itself is so interactive, and has everything, from Maori culture, to a colossal squid. My favourite part had to be the Gallipoli expedition, which included a series of incredibly realistic giant figures that we learned had actually been created in the Weta Workshop.
Day 7 – Ferry to South Island
Our journey of the North Island had finally come to an end, and we were ready to start our next adventure on the South Island. The journey takes about 3 and a half hours and cost $350 to get across in with our campervan. Make sure you get a window seat, because the trip is an experience in itself and has some spectacular scenery.