New Zealand North Island Family Itinerary: The Best Things to do in the North Island with kids

New Zealand North Island Itinerary

l lived in the North Island of New Zealand for the majority of my childhood and as I look back now, I’m amazed at all the things opportunities we had and all the amazing things to do in the North Island.  So many visitors are focused on the South Island (which is incredible) and only stay a couple of days in the North Island. This to me is crazy, because the North Island is just as awesome, but in a different way.  Also huge bonus: some parts of the North Island are well off the beaten track and you will be able to watch the sunrise all on your own.  I think that is totally the dream right?

To get a real sense of New Zealand, I implore you to stay as long as you can.  Everyone I have spoken, leaves New Zealand wishing they had more time here and are already making plans to come back.  I also understand that we are far from everywhere (except Australia, but even that is 3 hours flight time) so it has probably cost you a lot of money to get here.  So make the trip worthwhile and spend some time not only visiting the highlights, but getting off the beaten track and getting to know the culture.

Right, so you’re wondering what to see in New Zealand’s North Island, lets take a look below.

Backyard Travel Family reach the summit of Mt Kaukau, Wellington

This New Zealand North Island Itinerary is designed to hit the major highlights, provide a bit of relaxation along with your sightseeing must do list.  There are many more amazing spots around New Zealand, but this will give you some good bones for your trip.

This North Island Self Drive Itinerary covers everything all the absolute Must Do’s in the North Island.  (Please note this article may contain affiliate links, they do not cost the readers any extra but do help me run this website so I can provide you the best tips for your amazing New Zealand road trip.)

  • Maori culture
  • Amazing landscapes
  • Mountains
  • Beautiful beaches
  • Volcanoes
  • Adventure activities
  • A raft of great activities for kids
  • Epic swimming spots
  • Walks with great views
  • Options to see wildlife like kiwi and dolphins 

Kiwi bird walking through the bush in Rotorua

Overview of New Zealand North Island Self Drive Itinerary
These are the best North Island destinations for a short New Zealand holiday.
 
I apologise Taranaki, East Coast and Northland, you are beautiful too and I will tell everyone to spend more time here to explore these regions too.  If you are after a list of awesome things to do in Northland, click here
You can also try this 3 week itinerary if you want to include a trip north first. 

If you have been searching for “things to do in North Island” or “places to visit in North Island New Zealand”, I think we have you covered. 
 
 
How to get around New Zealand

This New Zealand itinerary is a self drive tour of New Zealand’s North Island.  It assumes you have a rental car or a campervan, both are great for family travel.  If you would like more information about choosing a family campervan in New Zealand, click here

There are many place to camp in the North Island, many by beaches and incredible scenery, so we highly recommend a campervan, or using campsites and holiday parks.

Weather in New Zealand

I have assumed this is a summer holiday, as this is the most popular time for tourists to travel in New Zealand.  But besides the days of visiting some of the beaches, you could do this itinerary at any time of the year.  The North Island is much warmer than the South Island in general, with the areas of Northland, Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty being quite temperate and more humid than the rest of the country.  For example, average temperatures in Auckland in winter can be around 10C.

New Zealand is a country where you have four seasons in one day.  Seriously, even in the summer, kiwis won’t leave home without a sweatshirt or a jacket.  To find out more information about what to pack and weather in New Zealand click here

Aerial view of Paddleboarder, paddling in blue waters beside lush bush track in Rotorua
Lake Tarawera, Rotorua

Day 0-1: Arrive in Auckland, New Zealand

Welcome to Auckland, New Zealand

Its the largest city in New Zealand, but don’t be mistaken, it is not the capital. (that’s in Wellington) Arrival day with a family can be a mission.  You have probably come a long way, are jet lagged (I always think the jet lag is worse coming into the future) and you’ve been travelling with kids, which means (unless they’re older) that you didn’t sleep much either.

So take a day to rest up, maybe explore the local area a tiny bit and don’t even think about jumping in a car and driving too far on this arrival day.  Find some sun (hopefully), visit a beach to chill out and let the kids run. Top beaches include:  Mission Bay, Takapuna Beach, Devonport Beach etc and watch the sunset over Rangitoto before getting an early night.  There are many things to do in Auckland, you will be spoilt for choice!

Day 2: Auckland City Exploration

Base yourself in the city today! Visit the Auckand Sky Tower for a city view or jump off the tower.

Visit the Auckland Waterfront and Viaduct where the Americas Cup sailing regatta was held. Stroll over the footbridge to Wynyard Corner, (great restaurants, playground and water play) Our kids love watching the yachts here and how the footbridge rises for the boats.

Head to Mt Eden to experience a real volcano that you can actually climb it.  (its grass and not at all like the scary White Island version)

They say ‘eat local’ and straight from the source, so head to the Auckland Fish Market for some of New Zealands best seafood. Don’t worry, they cook it too.  Or you could head to one of Aucklands child friendly pubs with excellent menus and even playgrounds

Day 3: Auckland Options Day

  • Take a Waiheke winery tour on the picturesque Waiheke Island, or
  • Enjoy the black sand beaches and Lion Rock at Piha (careful: huge surf) as well as the beautiful Karekare Waterfall (50 mins drive from Auckland City Centre) or
  • Find waterfalls and beaches at Shakespear Regional Park (40 minute road trip from Auckland)

Day 4: Auckland – Rangitoto Island

This is your chance to climb a volcano (don’t worry, its extinct) so catch the city ferry to Rangitoto Island and take on the summit walk (2 hours, gradual incline, 7km) Fantastic city views! There are many things to do on Rangitoto such as taking a visit to the lava caves (take a flashlight) This is a great day trip which will probably take about 5 hours return. 

There is also a guided tour that includes a train journey on the island that will save those little legs from too much walking.  For prices of this tour, click here

If walking is all too much, then head on a boat for the Auckland Whale and Dolphin Watching tour.  There is an array of marine animals out in the harbour, and a guarantee that if you don’t see any whales or dolphins (very rare) then you get to come back for free.  Click here for prices on this awesome boat tour

Day 5: Coromandel

Morning

Drive to Coromandel (2 hours, 20 min plus Auckland traffic)

Stop at the Pokeno Dairy (cornerstore) for the biggest ice creams.  Its totally okay to have ice cream for morning tea … you’re on your New Zealand holiday!

Afternoon

Check the tide schedule, then 2 hours either side of low tide, head to Hot Water Beach with a bucket and spade and dig yourself a personal hot pool right in the sand.  This is one of the best free New Zealand North Island attraction

Day 6: Coromandel

Morning

Sunrise at the epic Narnia film location: Cathedral Cove (40 min walk from carpark, or a little longer with gear)  This is one of my favourite North Island beaches, but the whole area up here is full of brilliant ones. Bring a backpack to carry young kids and think about the gear you have to take, you’re walking it all in and out.

Afternoon

For a secret beach, only reached by foot or boat, head to New Chums Beach (30 mins walk – rocky and steep in places)  

Day 7: Coromandel

Beach Day, Rest Day or Karangahake Gorge Visit 

The Karangahake Gorge is located 90 minutes south of Hot Water Beach or 30 mins from Thames (major service town for Coromandel)  If mining tunnels, biking a rail trail, waterfalls, rivers and historic railways are your thing, then this is a great sidetrip for you.  There are some stunning Karangahake Gorge Walks such as the Windows Walk and Rails tunnel loop that aren’t too long so perfect for families

There are amazing family adventures here but often skipped for the “highlights reel.”

Day 8: Drive to Rotorua via Hobbiton

It’s a 2.5 hour drive from the Coromandel to Hobbiton. Kiwis aren’t known for spending money in their own country, especially for a really touristy attraction but I just loved this. It’s as magical, green and lifelike as you can imagine. So if you’re wondering if Hobbit is worth visiting, even if you’re not a superfan… then Yes and the kids will love it. 

It’s probably a given, but do rewatch the films with your kids before you go. It will definitely bring the magic alive! You can take a stroller too… but there are a few stairs, and no doubt someone will give you a hand up them!  I’ve done it with a stroller and 9 month old and it was fine.

A tour guide will take you around Hobbiton and feed you interesting facts. Did you know the iconic tree is completely fake, or they paid people to walk around the Hobbit holes so the tracks looked worn? They even paid someone to remove the frogs from the pond because they were too noisy. At $84 for a adult, it is a splurge but kids under 9 are free (but they do need a ticket).

Book your Hobbiton tickets in advance as this North Island attraction often sells out.

——-

Lunch option: Kaimai Cheese Factory where you can watch them make cheese from local animals.

Afternoon Option to visit Wairere Falls, or continue 1 hour to Rotorua

 

Hobbit hole at Hobbiton Set Tour from the Lord of the Rings movies, easy day trip from Rotorua

Day 9: Rotorua

Morning

Start your Rotorua holiday off with a bang and walk to Kerosene Creek to the free hot pools and swim in the hot waterfall.  Make sure to go early before it gets too busy.

Afternoon

Take a walk high up in the forest at the Redwoods Treetop Walk, or look into the night option which is just beautiful.  This is one of the newest North Island attractions, so go take a look!

For more detailed information of the best things to do in Rotorua, click here

Rotorua Treewalk lit up at night by David Trubridge lanterns ; best things to do in Rotorua at night

Day 10: Rotorua

Morning
Swim at the Blue Lake (Lake Tikitapu) Lake Walk and Photostop at the Landing Jetty
Evening
Take in a Maori Cultural Show, including a traditional hangi dinner (cooked in the ground), learn about maori customs through song and dance.  You will get a real sense of New Zealand here and it should be high up on your North Island must do list.  It’s not to be missed.  Click here for discount tickets
Rotorua Duck tours take 2 amphibious boats swimming in Blue Lake Rotorua

Day 11: Rotorua

Parents Choice
  • Luxury at the Polynesian Spa. 
  • White Water Rafting on the Kaituna River down the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world.
  • Adrenalin Rush with Downhill Mountain Biking in the Redwoods Forest
Another great option is a day trip to Mount Maunganui.  Just over an hour from Rotorua, the beach is beautiful and there is nothing like climbing to the top of the Mount and seeing that incredible view.
Mud Bath Therapy at Polynesian Spa - one of the most luxurious things to do in Rotorua

Day 12: Rotorua

Morning
Have a family fun day at the Skyline Gondola and Luge and for city views and downhill fun.  Click here for the best deals  Older kids will also enjoy mountain biking here. Dinner at Cobb & Co  Cobb& Co is a saloon style family restaurant that every 30 year old + would have been to as a family. Kids love it because theres a great place area inside the restaurant. Parents love the peace and quiet and the extensive kids menu. Even a menu for 1-3 year olds and priced accordingly. Who can beat NZD$7.50 for nibbles, main and dessert for a toddler?
Mountain biking jumps at Skyline Rotorua, a great thing to do in rotorua with kids

Day 13: Rotorua

Morning
Check out the best Rotorua Thermal Attractions Free: Kuirau Park, Sulphur Point, Ohinemutu Paid: Te Puia, Whakarewarewa Village, Waiotapu, Hells Gate For more information on these Geothermal activities and the best things to do in Rotorua click here
Afternoon
Check out the Agrodome, NZ’s most popular farm experience or race an inflatable ball down the hill by taking on the infamous Zorb.
Checking out geothermal wonderlands is one of the best things to do in Rotorua with kids

Day 14: Taupo

Drive 1 hour to Taupo to check out NZ’s largest lake, which is actually a volcano, head to the cliffs of Mine Bay to see ancient Maori art carved into the rock, jump off a bridge at the Lake Taupo bungy and finish the day at Huka Falls, which spits out 1/4 million litres of water per second.  Taupo itself is one of the best North Island points of interest and you will find a lot of to do here (perhaps add an extra day or two if you like)

Aerial view of Huka Falls, a powering amount of water rushing down the river near Lake Taupo

Day 15: Morning in Taupo

Morning of activities in Taupo such as Craters of the Moon geothermal area, Huka Prawn Park or having McDonalds in a real airplane.
Drive 1 hour, 20 minutes south to National Park and prepare for the Tongariro Crossing (one of the top things to do in New Zealand) tomorrow
Drone view of Lake Taupo, a great day trip from Rotorua

Day 16 Tongariro

 
Walk the famous Tongariro Crossing today.  This is one of the most popular day walks in New Zealand,  but is over 19km, so is not any easy walk.  Make sure you are well prepared and do your research.  It is very exposed and long, so not recommended for young kids.
Tourist looks over at the Emerald Pools down below on the Tongariro Crossing hike; one of the best hikes in New Zealand's North Island

Day 17: Drive to Wellington

Drive 4 hours to Wellington

A good stop on the way south is the Levin Adventure Playground. (It’s about 1 hour 20 mins from Wellington) Its huge and there’s an indoor picnic area where you can warm a bottle or eat lunch indoors. (its free) Such a good set up for families.  You’ll find it at 93 Oxford Street, Levin

Day 18: Wellington

Recover from yesterdays drive, then try out some of the most iconic things to do in Wellington such as a ride the Cable Car for great views across the city and walk back down through Wellington’s Botanic Gardens.

Day 19: Wellington

Wellington Waterfront Day

Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand is a modern and innovative museum that is free, however donations are welcome. Kids can dig outside for bones, learn about maori culture and marvel in the exhibitions that really should be art pieces. If you’re going to choose any New Zealand museum to visit, pick this one.

Ride Crocodile bikes along the waterfront, play in the Frank Kitts Park Playground, swim at Oriental Bay, Rock Climb or Kayak at Fergs Kayaks.  There is plenty to do on the Wellington Waterfront.

Our kids loved watching the ships in the harbour and riding their bikes along the waterfront.

Day 20: Wellington

Weta Workshop: Think Peter Jackson and his award winning special effects. If you are into Thunderbirds, this is an amazing stop for you. (I’m looking at you dads) Other fun things to do in Wellington: Test out the cafes in New Zealand’s coffee capital, explore the street art, walk up Mt Victoria and see the seals at Red Rocks.  For more free things to do in Wellington, click here
Statue of Gandalf at Wellington's Weta Cave; a highlight of your New Zealand North Island Itinerary

Day 21: Wellington

Walking Day (options)

Paekakariki Escarpment Track: Perfect for fit walkers with amazing views over the Wellington Coastline. 2-4 hour walk with the train back to start. Steep and no rails, so children to be carried or be very careful.

Mt Victoria Walk for views over all of Wellington City (4.7km or 2.5 hours)

Putangirua Pinnacles, Wairarapa: 2 hour walk to incredible rock formation and Lord of the Rings Film Location

Brooklyn Wind Turbine Route: Known for its wind, Wellington is a great place for wind turbines. 2 hour walk

Swim and stroll at Days Bay on the other side of Wellington Harbour. Theres a cute wee chocolate shop and cafe called Chocolate Dayz there too.

Backyard Travel Family walk along the cliffside Paekakariki Escarpment Trail

Wow you made it!  The best things to do in the North Island, all whittled done into one article.  There are so many things to do in New Zealand, we hope this has narrowed down your choices, just a bit.  But surely you aren’t just going to stay in the North Island right?

Just on the Cook Strait Ferry, take your car or campervan for a wee 3 hour boat trip and head for the South Island now.  For tips on choosing the best Cook Strait Ferry, click here

CLICK HERE FOR OUR FAMILY SOUTH ISLAND ITINERARY

If you are any questions about this North Island New Zealand Road Trip, or need more inspiration, flick us an email or come and chat with us over on Instagram or Facebook

Jennifer

Jennifer

Founder of Backyard Travel Family

Jen is a super organiser when it comes to travel. Having travelled extensively in Europe and Africa, has lived in London and the USA and holidayed in many parts of Asia, she is not a newbie to the travel space

Jen has three young children, 6 and under and travels around New Zealand with them.

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