New Zealand – A step-by-step itinerary around the North Island

If you followed me for a while here, on my Instagram or my Facebook page, you know that I am not a big fan of organised tours and guided trips, but back in September, after 13 months travelling all around the world, I was quite exhausted of all the planning, researching AND driving, so when Kiwi Experience, the leading kiwi bus tour operator, invited me aboard their big green bus around Middle Earth, erm..New Zealand, I jumped at the opportunity and said “Sweet As!”  I chose the Rangi Pass which basically consisted of six weeks of being comfortably escorted to gorgeous places, planned routes, accommodations and activities sorted, leaving me all the time for enjoying, photographing, making new friends and taking in all.

 
Oh yeah, actually Sweet as. 

Auckland  

I love walking everywhere and be able to see everything at my own pace, but when you are extremely stretched with time, the Hop on hop off Explorer can be the best solution to make the most of the time at your disposal without rushing from place to place and missing out on things. With a very interesting and useful commentary, this is the best way to see all the big 14 attraction the city has to offer including the Sky City and Sky Tower, the cute Parnell Village, Auckland Waterfront and Mission Bay Beach and of course the stunning Auckland Museum.


Auckland museum 

A must see for visitors and locals where three expansive levels tell the entire story of New Zealand as well as the Maori and Pacific cultures which all merged on this unique country. In the Volcano section you can also experience a close-to-terrifying first-hand earthquake experience…. yup, it felt real. There is also a great Maori Cultural Performance every day at 11am, 12pm and 1.30pm. Not far from the museum, there are the wonderful Winter Gardens set right next to a duck pond and a natural spring (free of charge).

 

 

 

 

Must stop for breakfast or a coffee break here:

https://www.instagram.com/p/BLiAsxtAF4z/?taken-by=the_storyteller

When in Auckland dream at x Base 

Location. Location. Location. Right in the middle of Queens Street you have this huge hostel which, not only offer basic dorm accommodation, but also ensuite rooms so high up that you would feel like you can touch the sky (and the Sky Tower) with a finger. The hostel also offers a great Base Travel “agency” to book all your trips and excursions around New Zealand and beyond. And if you are here on a working holiday visa, you can also get tips and job interviews through their Job Search office.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BLf41cPDT7R/?taken-by=the_storyteller

or at Nomads

Another large hostel with plenty of floors and dorms to choose from. This, like all the other XBase/Nomads hostels, is also a party hostel. Don’t expect to have long, relaxed night sleep here (unless you book a private room and buy earplugs), but who’s here to sleep anyway?

* in all Nomads/Base hostels the Wi-Fi isn’t included and it’s 5 bucks for 24 hrs, not cool (but very common in New Zealand)


Bay Of Islands 

Face to face with the dolphins with ExploreGroup

Enjoy a day cruising around the 144 islands that make this stunning bay. Stop to admire pods of dolphins jumping and playing with the boat and enjoy an earthy lunch on a deserted island like a modern castaway.

 
Fly high with Kiwi Parasailing

For a different perspective of this gorgeous area mixed with a little bit of adrenaline, book your flight with Kiwi Parasailing in Paihia.

 

Dream at XBase

A very cute collection of low-raised dorms with that beach vibe. You have a small hot tub outside and a great bar with happy hour and a delicious bbq what else you need? Book here


Coromandel Peninsula

Hot Water Beach

Visit this nature’s wonder where you can soak in your own hot water pool right on the beach. Stay as long as you want, but definitely until sunset!

 

Walk to Cathedral Cove 

One of the best walks on the northern island where the landscape, with the green grass on the left and the ocean on the right, just fills your soul and lift your spirit.

Dream at Top 10 – Hot Water Beach

Top 10 Hot Water Beach was one of my favourite stay in the northern island as I managed to get an upgrade to one of the deluxe cabins – yup all by myself. My hut was extremely cute, clean, tidy and there was everything I needed (including a fridge, kettle, coffee and the most amazing mattress in whole New Zealand!)

 

 

 

 


Waitomo

This was one of the absolute highlights of my trip around the North island. Just imagine an afternoon spent abseiling down the seemingly bottomless depths of the Black Abyss (35m in total darkness!!), flying fox, climbing waterfalls and tubing in dark caves only illuminated by glowworms. This is what I call a must-do in New Zealand. If you feel a less extreme adventure, there are also other interesting options.

 


Rotorua

There is so much to do in Rotorua that at least a couple of nights at XBase are necessary. This is another cool place to spend some quality time especially in the large pool outside.

About 30km south of Rotorua, there is one of the largest and mystical geothermal areas in New Zealand. Waiotopu (Maori for “sacred waters”) has many colourful  hot springs as well as the Champagne Pool, the Artist’s Palette and the beautiful Primrose Terrace. If you are there in time, try and catch the Lady Knox Geyser at 10.15am daily.

 

 


Polynesian spa

After a long day walking around the wonders of Waiotopu, there is nothing better to relax and soak in the peace and the wonderful view from this gorgeous piece of paradise. Make sure to go there before sunset and just enjoy the peace and the warmth filling you from the inside.

Tamaki Maori Village

As mentioned above, I’m not a big fan of organised “cultural” experiences where you get to see artists performing ancient rituals and dances.
But my overnight stay at the Tamaki Maori Village was surely something different, where everything felt authentic and unstaged. A few lucky ones (those staying for the night) were welcomed by a great afternoon tea, we had the honour to play some of the traditional Maori games followed by a great feast at dinner in buffet style.
I was amazed by the haka dance and pleased to learn a few words in a song we all sang together at dinner. Book your experience at Tamaki if you wish to get a first understanding of the Maori culture and tradition.

 


Taupo

Taupo is one of the many beautiful kiwi towns sitting on the shore of a beautiful lake. At first sight, I knew Taupo was the place for me and in fact, I extended my stay an extra night at XBase. During my time there I did a couple of extreme activities. Firstly, throwing myself off at 47m attached to just what looks like a normal rope as my first-time bungy jumping with Taupo Bungy.

 

Secondly climbing up the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the most exhilarating, incredible, beautiful walks of my entire life with Tongariro Expeditions.

 




 

 


Wellington

The tour of the North Island finishes off in Wellington also known as Windy-Welly where the museum Te-Papa offers the most interesting and interactive space I’ve ever seen as well as providing the most incredible experiences for children as well as taller children.  In Wellington, I also decided to spoil myself to an AMAZING pizza and I can swear by it (I can’t swear by many outside the Italian borders and this is one).

If you have time, make sure to grab a flat while or brunch at Caffe L’Affare and to catch the cable car to the Botanic Gardens. Also,  if you like me are wi-fi and books addicted, make sure to check the Wellington City Library (super fast and FREE wifi) and make sure to stop at Unity Books for a general browse or to pick up a new travel book for your journey. I, appropriately, bought Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide To Getting Lost, a witty, well-researched and fascinating investigation into loss and getting lost, that combines personal memories, philosophy, psychology and it will open up a world of new thoughts. The perfect companion for my trip around New Zealand (and the endless one  inside myself).

And again, best hostel in town is XBase, great location, fun staff and here again I was upgraded to a double room.  Sweet As.


More about KiwiExperience in New Zealand 

The buses offer all modern comfort and huge windows to admire the landscape outside. The drivers are all super-knowledgable and fun to hang out with. Especially Kyle and Fly were incredible and they went over and beyond their role to help us.

Ideal for:

+ first-time travellers with little experience of planning/researching and/or travel-exhausted people (like me) who want to be spoiled and escorted from place to place for once 😃

– young backpackers who are manly looking to party at night and have a great time meeting lots of new friends in New Zealand

– English-speaking travellers: all commentary and info are only in English so if you don’t have a fluent English you might end up missing your bus or most of the stuff going on

Possible improvements: 

– as an independent traveller and a photographer I suffered lots as we couldn’t stop to take pictures of the incredible landscape that were passing in front of our eyes from the bus’ window -> I would highly recommend much more photo stops, at the end most people come to New Zealand once in their lifetime!

– lots, lots, lots of paper to fill every day, that could easily be integrated by an extension in their nice app. The papers, despite the very old-style method, make everything smooth and easy ahead of arriving at your next destination

– the check-in process at Base needs big improvements. When the +50 disembark the bus and run to the check in desk it can take a good 45 minutes to finally get into your room. Same for checking out 😔

 
 

If you wish to book your own Kiwi Experience bus, you should head here and make sure to tune for my second post about the South Island soon-ish! 😃 If you are interested in booking accommodation with Xbase / Nomads click here

 
 

Notes:
1 – I was a guest of New Zealand’s Tourist Board in collaboration with Kiwi Experience and the partners mentioned above.  All opinions are always – authentically and completely – my own. 

2 – There are affiliated links on this post – as you know travel writing is one of my many jobs, this means that if you book through the links above, a small % of your payment goes towards this blog and my further travels. 

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  • I have wanted to go to New Zealand for so long and this has made me want to go even more! Thanks for such a detailed itinerary!

    • New Zealand will leave you totally speechless! it’s simply gorgeous! One of the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen in my life! Let me know if you need any more info! Happy to share my top tips! 🙂

  • Amazing places, lakes, mountains… You had a great adventure!
    New Zealand is still on our bucket list!!

    • you should totally put it at the top of that bucket list! NZ is one of the most beautiful countries i’ve ever visited!! 🙂

  • Jennifer Morrow

    6 weeks on the same organized tour is just too much. I think I would struggle with even one week of an organized tour, but I do like the idea of not having to drive myself or navigate around the island! The hot springs and botanical gardens are certainly top of the list from your adventures.

    • Well, the good thing is that Kiwi isn’t an organised tour! I could never do that either! It’s an hop on and hop off bus, which means that you have your own schedule and itinerary, you can decided how long you want to stay in each place and the drivers and people you travel with are always different. Which makes it fun!

  • Wow! I’m so fascinated by New Zealand, but it’s so darn far!!
    Friends of mine rented a van and toured the island for a good month, but being driven around also sounds like a great plan!

    • that was originally my plan, but after driving on the wrong..erm left side of the road for 7 months, i really wanted to chill and take in the incredible scenery. Kiwi was the best option in new zealand. Let me know if you need any more info. And yes, it’s faaaaar! but totally worth it!! 🙂

  • MARINA

    There’s nothing I didn’t like about this post… Taupo hike and landscapes look amazing, the Polynesian spa is like a dream come true after carrying the backpack for a few months, KiwiExperience seems like a perfect way to organize your trip when running out of time or wanting to meet new people on the way… and all those “adventure activities” you pointed out… just looking forward to experience them some day!

    Congrats for the post, feels very useful since it has been organized as an itinerary and can be followed/copied easily!

    Btw, just in case I missed it… how many days might it take you this itinerary aprox.?

    • Hi Marina! Thank you so much for your wonderful comment! yes, as you said, New Zealand has it all! And in terms of how long, I spent 2 weeks on the north Island and 4 in the south. but you can plan and do as you please: longer, shorter, that’s the beauty of Kiwi. I like to travel slow so I took my time! 🙂 I’m leaving today for my next destination! Let me know if you need more info!

  • Kathy James

    New Zealand really has it all doesn’t it. I have heard great things about kiwi Experience and you have just confirmed this about them.

    I haven’t been to new Zealand yet but with the start ofy world tour approaching fast, I will certainly be heading there soon. I love the idea of the hop on hop off bus. I did something similar to this in south Africa.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Thank you, Kathy! You are more than welcome! Let me know if you decide to go with Kiwi, I might have a promotional code for people who book through my website. And have a brilliant time during your around the world tour! it’s going to be amazing!! 🙂

  • Ty Janee

    Wow! I never this place had so much to do. I’ve always wanted to see Australia but this post makes me want the head to New Zealand first!

    • I think you should! Both countries are incredible, but I think NZ has got something very special and unique that you can’t find in Australia. Let me know when you decide!

  • One of the best roadtrips I’ve done so far was in NZ! Magical place! I had to skip Waitomo though because we didn’t get to manage our time well on our way back from the south island – and because I got coaxed into skydiving in Taupo. Haha! Awesome post!

    • Thank you so much! You need to go to Waitomo and do the caves when you have the chance ! it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life! thanks for your comment!! 🙂

  • Ivy

    This looks like a BLAST! It’s got something for everyone, for the adrenaline junkie to a pampered princess 😛 Ive been wanting to go to NZ for a long time now (huge lotr fan haha)- this makes me wanna book that flight even more!

    • Do it!!! NZ is incredible and you, being a huge LOTR fan, will love it even more! Have a blast! 🙂

  • Hendrik Hünecke

    Very impressive! So many amazing places and your beautiful photos make me even more wanna go there soon. Anyway New zealand is one of our next goals and the more I see and rad, the mire urgent this gets 🙂
    Thank you for sharing your experiences!

    • Thank you so much Hendrik! yes, I can reccomend NZ enough! I’ve travelled to many places, but this country will always hold a special spot in my heart! 🙂

  • Natalie Tanner

    My goodness what a gorgeous place!! I’ve heard so many wonderful things about the beauty of New Zealand… one day we’ll brave the very long flight to get there from the states and see it in person. Thos your looks like a great way to see it!

  • Diana – MVMTblog

    NZ looks beautiful. Can’t believe I still haven’t been, but it’s top on my list. I love how there’s so much city stuff and nature activities at the same time because I love city life but I also love hiking and doing outdoorsy things.

    • You should totally go! I can’t reccomend it enough or all the activities and hostels I suggested above! It’s an entire list of must-dos! let me know if you wish to know more when you are ready to book! 🙂

  • Some great suggestions there! New Zealand is one of my all time favourites!

  • Ty Janee

    How cool! The haka dance looks like it was great to watch!

    • Oh yeah! it’s such an incredible experience to see it performed in front of you! 🙂

  • Oh this hits so close to home! I did KE last winter (wish I’d been a guest New Zealand’s Tourist Board though 😉 ), and it is such an amazing experience. We didn’t have the same drivers, but I think your description applies to everyone on the team – they certainly make it even more fun!

    • Absolutely! the drivers are those who make the experience so special and different from all the rest!

  • What a great list of things to do! I’d love to go bungy jumping! I have yet to find a travel buddy that wants to do it with me and I think it’s about time I try it solo!

    • I was alone too and it was the best experience! you should totally go for it! I promise you, you will want to jump again straight away! have fun!!

  • Brianna

    I was just visiting the North Island a few months ago! Unfortunately we only had 5 days, so I didn’t get to see nearly as much as you have listed here. Oh well, I guess that’s more of a reason to return someday!

    • Oh wow! five days is surely not enough to visit all the things that the island has to offer, but I’m sure you’ll be back one day! 🙂

  • Kallsy Page

    I too don’t always enjoy organized tours and prefer to go off the beaten path. These, however, seem like they were worth it! I would love to visit the spa that you went to after spending a day black water rafting!

    • The Polynesian Spa was one of the highlight of the North Island. The settings and the staff are great and you can truly relax yourself there! 🙂