How many days to see the North Island of New Zealand?

Learn how many days it could take to visit the North Island of New Zealand based on an itinerary that includes some interesting places and things to do.

If I had to just go by feeling and come up with a reasonable amount of days to see the North Island of New Zealand, I’d say 5 days.

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Five days anywhere is long enough for you to see something other than an airport and short enough for you not to get bored.

The distance from the top of the North Island in Cape Reinga to the bottom of the North Island in Wellington is about 1070 km (665 mi) and would take about 13 hours to drive without stopping anywhere.

So theoretically speaking, you could spend one day on the North Island, but that would not be enough to see or do much. You could add another day to increase the opportunity of stopping briefly at a few selected locations, but it would still not make for a satisfying trip.

If I look at the North Island and think about places that are really worthwhile visiting or seeing, I can come up with 3 regions:

  1. Bay of Islands
  2. Coromandel Peninsula
  3. Rotorua

And to complete the trio, I’d throw in Auckland and Wellington just to be able to say that I visited the major cities on the North Island.

Let’s look at the aforementioned regions and see how many days you would need to visit each location and then come up with a total amount of days to spend on the North Island of New Zealand.

Auckland

The easiest and most common way to get to the North Island is to fly to Auckland, although some international airlines also fly to Wellington – mostly from Australia.

While Auckland is not the capital city of New Zealand, it is the largest city and has the largest airport in the country, which is why it is the main port of entry into New Zealand.

Otarawairere Bay on the North Island of New Zealand

Otarawairere Bay on the North Island of New Zealand

If you are not flying to New Zealand from Australia, but have to cross many time zones to get to New Zealand, it is advisable that you take the first day easy, and not immediately jump into a car and start driving.

So spending 1 – 2 days in Auckland would be a good idea. If you are visiting from overseas, you can take it easy on the first day and then do activities on the second day before moving on.

Ideas for killing time in Auckland include:

You could choose to do a harbour cruise to for example Waiheke Island for wine-tasting or Rangitoto Island to walk up the summit of the youngest volcanic cone in the Auckland region to get good views of the region around Auckland.

Either island can be reached in under 1 hour by catching a ferry (for example Fullers) from downtown Auckland.

And to get really nice views of Auckland, either choose a ride up the Sky Tower (328 metres) or do a walk up Mount Eden (196 metres) for views of Auckland from afar.

Bay of Islands

On your second or third day on the North Island, you should be fresh enough to take a drive up North to Kerikeri. The drive from Auckland to Kerikeri should take about 3 hours.

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On your drive up North, you could stop and visit Whangarei Falls, which is located just North of Whangarei, before driving on to Kerikeri.

You could spend 2 – 3 days in Kerikeri depending on how much you like coastal scenery and beaches. Kerikeri could serve as a base to visit the Bay of Islands where you can do activities on and around water.

The scenery by itself is to die for in this area. Another idea would be to drive from Kerikeri to the lighthouse at Cape Reinga and Ninety Mile Beach nearby.

But check your car rental contract for whether you can drive on the road to the lighthouse, since some car rental companies prohibit this.

And it is highly likely that Ninety Mile Beach is on the forbidden list too.

There are many scenic reserves and forests in this area where you can do walks, along the coast or away from it.

Coromandel Peninsula

From Kerikeri, you could drive back down to Auckland and then onwards to the East to visit the Coromandel Peninsula, which is famous for its beaches.

The drive to Coromandel Peninsula should take about 5 hours.

Owharoa Falls in the Karangahake Gorge on the North Island of New Zealand

Owharoa Falls on the North Island of New Zealand

You could spend 1 night on the Coromadel Peninsula to visit places like Cathedral Cove for its picture-perfect beach and Hot Water Beach to create and sit down in your own hot pool on the beach.

There is also a gorgeous waterfall in the nearby Karangahake Gorge, which you can visit – Owharoa Falls.

Rotorua

Rotorua is the place to be for Maori cultural activities and for visiting thermal pools and areas. It is also centrally located, so you could visit several other locations while staying in Rotorua.

You could spend 2 – 3 days in Rotorua depending on what you would like to see or do.

The drive from Coromandel Peninsula to Rotorua should take about 3 hours, so you would have enough time to do a side trip to Tauranga, where you can for example walk up Mount Maunganui for nice scenic views over Tauranga and the coast.

From Rotorua, you could drive down South and visit Huka Falls near Taupo, and Tongariro National Park to see volcanoes or do a walk.

You could also drive to Tauranga or Whakatane and onwards to visit beaches like Ohope Beach where you can do a coastal walk.

Or you could just stay in Rotorua and attend a Maori cultural show or visit one of the several thermal areas around the town.

Wellington

Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand, but it is also a city that you can visit and see in 1 day, because it is so compact.

Rotorua Museum on the North Island of New Zealand

Rotorua Museum on the North Island of New Zealand

Wellington forms a good stopover if you have to catch a ferry to the South Island the next day.

But you could also cut your trip short by flying back to Auckland from Wellington instead of driving back, since driving back to Auckland would take about 8 hours.

Wellington – just like Auckland – offers shopping and eating facilities. There are many restaurants and bars you could visit in Wellington if you are into that.

You could also do something cultural and visit the Te Papa museum or stroll around the city centre looking at old buildings, which in spite of many earthquakes, are still standing.

Other popular places to see include Wellington’s waterfront, the Beehive where the government resides, and the Wellington botanic garden.

You can catch the Cable Car up to the Wellington botanic garden and get nice views of Wellington city, or if you are feeling energetic, walk up Mount Victoria for 360-degree views of Wellington.

Final words on how many days to see the North Island

The trip suggested above would take a minimum of 7 – 8 days to complete.

If you have more days to spend, you could visit the East coast of the North Island. There are lots of nice beaches along almost the entire coast from East Cape down to Napier and Hastings.

You can also find wineries and vineyards in Hastings and further down South in Wairarapa. Or you could head West to visit New Plymouth and Mount Egmont National Park.

There are several waterfalls scattered all over the North Island where you could stop or visit large lakes like Lake Taupo or Lake Waikaremoana. There are also a couple of Lord of the Rings locations you could visit if you are into that.

The possibilities are endless. It is really up to you how much time you would like to spend on the North Island of New Zealand.

And remember to always plan activities for days with good weather as well as bad weather; don’t make the same mistakes I made on my 3-week trip to New Zealand.

Enjoy your trip to the North Island!

 

Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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