3 Week North Island Itinerary, New Zealand | Moon & Honey Travel

3 Week North Island Itinerary

Last Updated: April 2018

3 Week New Zealand North Island Itinerary

This 3 week itinerary will take you to the North Island’s best hiking areas and the country’s finest wine regions. This isn’t you average tourist route with recommended tourist activities. This is a travel plan for independent explorers who relish the outdoors, wildlife, and a good craft beer, or glass of wine. We’re all about balancing the two in this epic North Island Itinerary.

We traveled through NZ with a NSC (non self-contained) campervan from mid-January to mid-April (Summer, Autumn). This itinerary is closely based on what we did, though we lingered in some places longer due to bad weather. For each day, we’ve outlined our favorite things to do and see, including hikes, wineries and places to eat. We’ve also included where to stay, whether you’re camping, backpacking, or staying in hotels. Also use our New Zealand Travel GuideNew Zealand Hiking Guide, and our South Island Itinerary to help plan your trip.

 

Three Week North Island Itinerary Summary:

  • Day 1: Auckland & Around
  • Days 2-3: Coromandel Peninsula
  • Day 4: Raglan
  • Days 5-7: Taranaki & New Plymouth
  • Days 8-10: Tongariro National Park
  • Days 11-13: Taupo & Around
  • Days 14-16: Hawke’s Bay & Around
  • Days 17-18 : Martinborough Wine Region
  • Day 19: Cape Palliser & Aorangi Forest Park
  • Days 20-21: Wellington
Three Week New Zealand North Island Itinerary | Moon & Honey Travel

Day 1: Auckland & Around

Your New Zealand North Island trip will likely begin in Auckland. Once you’ve secured your campervan, or rental car, head out to the black sand beaches on the east coast. Piha and Te Henga (Bethells Beach) are standout beaches. Waitakere Ranges is a tramping destination, though some of the tracks are closed to help prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease. Auckland itself leaves something to be desired, so no need to linger. There will be other towns and cities that deserve your time (sorry if that’s harsh). As you’re heading out of town, swing by Kumeu River Wines and Coopers Creek Vineyard.

 

Stay near Piha 

  • Whatipu Campground (7.50 NSD per person) – Remote camping location for NSC and SC Vehicles close to Whatipu Beach. It’s a drive to get to the campsite, but it’s scenic and peaceful. 
  • Piha Beachstay – Short walk from Piha beach. Accommodation features private bedrooms and dormitories. 
  • Romantic Piha – Excellent views and great location. When you want to splurge… 
Three Week New Zealand North Island Itinerary | Moon & Honey Travel

Days 2-3: Coromandel Peninsula

Coromandel Peninsula boasts beautiful beaches, a very Hot Water Beach, quaint towns and decent tramping. As you drive along the coast, you’ll easily slip into vacation mode. If you have extra time, you could allot 4 or 5 days to the peninsula and explore north of Colville.

See & Do

  • Kauaeranga Kauri Trail to Pinnacles Hut in Coromandel Forest Park Day hike, or overnight hike (5-7 hours return). We stayed in the hut, which was large and well equipped with kitchen appliances and drinking water (collected from rainfall). We love staying in mountain huts, but we think this particular hike is a better as a day hike.
  • Hot Water Beach A beach where you can dig up your own hot spring tub during low tide. The hot water rises to the surface through fractures from an underground hot water reservoir. Pretty cool, right? The heat is a result of volcanic activity that occurred 5 to 9 million years ago. The water is VERY HOT! You’ll need a shovel to dig the hole (which you can rent from the Hot Water Beach Store) so you don’t burn your fingers and a bucket so that you can cool off your hot spring with ocean water.
  • Bike the Karangahake Gorge – This curvaceous canyon formed by the Ohinemuri River is a tramping and biking area. Though you can walk along the river, you’ll have more fun on a bike. There are also safe spots to take a dip.
  • Owharoa Falls  Small, but beautiful waterfall. On a hot summer day, swimming at the base of the waterfall is so refreshing.
  • Flatwhite Waihi Beach – This café overlooking the beach is a fun place to grab a drink and something to eat. Locals were all about the iced coffees (ice cream coffee drinks). 

Night #1: Stay near Hahei 

Night #2 Stay near Waihi Beach

Raglan, New Zealand North Island | Moon & Honey Travel

Day 4: Raglan

Raglan is a cute surf town that invites you to chill and ride the waves. According to kiwis, this is one of the best locations in NZ to learn how to surf. It’s safe and there are schools ready to get you up on a board. Kati loved her surf lesson with Greenwave Raglan. We probably would have stayed another day if I (Sabrina) was more enthusiastic about surfing (sorry Kati). 

Stay in Raglan

  • Kev’s place (10 NSD per person)  Campground with drinking water and showers.
  • Little Miss Sunshine – Bed and breakfast with garden and patio.
Three Week New Zealand North Island Itinerary | Moon & Honey Travel

Days 5-7: Taranaki & New Plymouth

The Drive from Raglan to New Plymouth

The coastal drive to New Plymouth is beautiful. On one side, rolling green hills are dotted with dairy cows, goats and sheep. On the other, the ocean stretches out infinitely. During low tide, you can access the White Cliffs Walkway. Our favorite roadside stop was Mike’s Brewery. Definitely drop in for a flight and a platter of cheese when you’re in Urenui.

Taranaki

Taranaki region takes its name from Mount Taranaki, the perfectly symmetrical cone volcano that (supposedly) dominates the skyline. We actually never saw the volcano, because of heavy fog and bad weather. So, if you arrive in Taranaki on a clear day, consider yourself lucky. You’ll find the most activity (restaurants, accommodations, etc…) in New Plymouth. We highly recommend Federal Store for breakfast and lunch and the South Indian Restaurant Kathakali for dinner.

Hike Egmont National Park

Egmont National Park encompasses Mount Taranaki (2518 meters) and the surrounding forest, rightly nicknamed the Goblin Forest. It’s a lush rainforest characterized by twisted kamahi and Hall’s totara trees festooned with moss. The forest floor is carpeted with ferns and moss, creating an entirely green environment. The effect of seeing sunlight filter through the mossy canopy is nothing short of mesmerizing. You feel like you’ve entered another realm.

To experience the Goblin Forest, head to the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre. There’s an easy loop hike that takes you into the forest and to the Willies Pools and Dawson Falls. If you’re interested in experiencing the Pouakai Range (outstanding views of Mount Taranaki on a clear day), consider hiking the Mangorei Track. You’ll hike through the goblin forest for 2 hours before emerging into stunted tussock land.

Stay in New Plymouth 

Three Week New Zealand North Island Itinerary | Moon & Honey Travel

Days 8-10: Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park will dazzle you with its barren topography, rugged volcanoes and crater lakes. With treeless lunar landscapes rubbing up against tussock slopes and beech forest, Tongariro’s diverse landscapes are devastatingly beautiful. Lord of the Rings fans will no doubt be thrilled by the site of Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom).

Hike

  1. Tongariro Alpine Crossing (19.4 km)
    • Trailhead: While you can start, or end your hike at either end, it’s far more popular to start the hike at Mangatepopo Road and end at Ketetahi Car Park.
    • This is a thru-hike, so you’ll need to organize a shuttle transport a few days in advance. There are many shuttle operators to choose from. We opted for Mountain Shuttle (30 NSD per person) and it worked out perfectly.
  2. Tama Lakes (17 km return)
    • Trailhead: Whakapapa Visitor Centre at Ngauruhoe Place
  3. Taranaki Falls (6 km loop)
    • Trailhead: Whakapapa Visitor Centre at Ngauruhoe Place
  4. Mount Ruapehu
    • Trailhead: Iwikau Village
    • Marked Tracks: Skyline Ridge (1.5-2 hrs return), Waterfalls Descent (1.5 hrs), Meads Wall (15-20 min, return)
    • Unmarked Track: Crater Lake (5 hrs return) – only attempt this on a clear day.

Stay in Turangi, the National Park Village, or Whakapapa Village

  • Kaimanawa Road Campsite – Free campground for SC and NSC vehicles. Given it’s proximity to Ketetahi Car Park, it fills up early. 
  • Extreme Backpackers in Turangi – Budget Hostel
  • Chateau Tongariro Hotel in Whakapapa Village – This stately hotel is one of the finest buildings in the North Island. They also have an afternoon tea service. 
Three Week New Zealand North Island Itinerary | Moon & Honey Travel

Days 11-13: Taupo & Around

Taupo is a small town situated on Lake Taupo. After hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, we drove to Taupo and took a refreshing dip in the lake (highly recommend). Base yourself here for a few days so that you can explore the lake and the region’s geothermal parks and thermal pools.

Soak in Hot Springs 

  • Spa Thermal Park – Hot thermal waters of the Otumuheke Stream meet the Waikato River. There are several natural pools (below the bridge) that you can soak in. If you get too hot, you can take a dip in the river. For a peaceful experience, come early in the morning. 
  • Wairakei Terraces & Health Spa – Thermal pools for adults only. Mineral Waters gently cascade over silica terraces into several pools. The complex is small, but it’s a great way to rejuvenate after a long hike. It’s 25 NSD per person, but make sure to check out GrabOne (online coupon shop) for a 1/2 off coupon.

Visit a Geothermal Park

  • Orakei Korako Geothermal Park & Cave – There’s a circular boardwalk that takes you to all the features of the park (boiling mud pools, steam vents, geysers). From the parking lot, you’ll take a short boat ride across the river to get to the site. It was nice, but it seemed over-priced for what it was. 36 NSD per person.
  • Craters of the Moon – Geothermal field filled with exposed steam vents just north of Taupo. We didn’t visit, but we wanted to include it here, so you know what your options are. 

Eat and drink

  • Vine Eatery & Bar – Excellent restaurant with a long wine list. We loved the chorizo seafood risotto! 

Stay in Taupo

  • Reids Park Farm Freedom Campground (Free)  Campground for SC and NSC vehicles. From the campground, you can walk to the Huka Falls via a lovely soft trail through the redwoods. Just cross the road, head north (in the direction of the falls) and look for a sign/footpath heading into the forest. The Maps.Me app was helpful in locating the trail. You can also walk on the road (not as fun), or drive to the Huka Falls parking lot.
  • Haka Lodge Taupo – Self-contained apartments, private rooms and dormitories. 
  • Gables Lakefront Motel – Self-contained apartments with lake views. 
Cape Kidnappers Gannet Colony, New Zealand | Moon & Honey Travel

Days 14-16: Hawke's Bay

Hawke’s Bay is a region on the east coast of the North Island. From the art deco town of Napier to the impressive wineries around Havelock North, Hawke’s Bay is reason alone to visit the North Island.

Wine Tasting

As the oldest and second largest wine-producing region in New Zealand, some of the countries finest wines are produced here. Stand out varietals are Chardonnay and Viognier. Apart from the quality of the wine, it was the welcoming atmosphere of the wineries that we really loved. We highly recommend wandering between cellar doors and doing as much tasting as you’re able. But, we also highly recommend dining at the wineries. Many wineries have adjoined restaurants that specialize in new-concept food, elevating New Zealand cuisine to an art. Our best meals in NZ were at these wineries.

  • Elephant Hill Wine Estate – This place makes an impression. The cuisine and wine (chardonnay) are exceptional. The service is kind and attentive. We treated ourselves to dinner here after hiking to Cape Kidnappers.
  • Black Barn Vineyards – Light-filled modern bistro. We came here for lunch and had a remarkable fish dish. The viognier was liquid heaven. If you time your visit right, there are sometimes open-air concerts.
  • Craggy Range – Directly facing Te Mata Peak, this must be the most beautiful winery in the region. We had an excellent wine tasting experience here. If you decide to linger, check out their Terrôir Restaurant.

Bonus: Don’t leave the area without getting a Neapolitan Pizza at Alessandro’s Pizzeria Napoletana in Havelock North.

Gannet-watching at Cape Kidnappers

Bird sanctuaries and wildlife parks are enjoyable, but if you have an opportunity to witness birds in their natural habitat, it’s far more rewarding. Cape Kidnappers is home to four gannet colonies, where an estimated total of 15,700 gannets live. Because gannets are surprisingly tolerant of humans, you can observe them up close.

They nest in close proximity to one another. So, you’ll see hundreds of birds soaring around the colonies, guarding their chicks and displaying unique “partner” behavior. For example, paired gannets will rub their beaks and necks together when a partner returns home to its nest site.

How to get to the Plateau Colony:

  • Hike. The hike starts at the carpark at Clifton. It’s a 2 hour beach walk to reach the Black Reef Colony and an additional 45 min to reach the Plateau Colony. It gets really windy along the coast, so make sure you have a proper rain/wind jacket.
  • For those that are unable to hike, or have less time, there are several different tour operators offering shuttle tours (via roads), tractor and trailer tours (via beach), or quadbike rentals (via beach).

When to go: early November to late February (when the chicks have hatched). In March, the gannets start their migration to Australia.

What time to go: low tide. Lonely Planet recommends: “leave no earlier than 3 hours after high tide; start back no later than 1.5 hours after low tide.” Use MetService to check the tide, as it varies each day.

Stay in Napier, Hastings or Havelock North

Martinborough, New Zealand North Island | Moon & Honey Travel

Days 17-18 : Martinborough Wine Region

Martinborough is a sunny wine village in the Wairarapa wine region. It has a laid back, casual vibe that makes wine tasting here so enjoyable. Wairarapa is like the Anderson Valley of California. Martinborough itself is a charming town surrounded by 20 wineries. It’s flat, so hopping on a bike is a good option for getting between tasting rooms. The region is renowned for its pinot noir, but also produces excellent pinot gris and gewürztraminer. We’re going to say something controversial – we like Martinborough’s sauvignon blanc far more than Marlborough’s. It’s less acidic, a bit rounder and perhaps a touch sweeter.

Wine Tasting

  • If you arrive in Martinborough after 4:30/5:00 p.m., most of the cellar doors will be closed. Head to the wine bar Micro for a flight of local wine.
  • Haythornthwaite Wines – This is a family owned boutique vineyard of 11 acres. Sit in the garden and order a cheese platter and a full wine tasting. On a sunny day, you won’t want to leave. Whatever you do, don’t leave without tasting the gewürztraminer.
  • Palliser Estate – we enjoyed our wine tasting here. We saw a couple eating a huge slice of chocolate cake with their wine, and regret not doing the same.

Stay in Martinborough 

  • Martinborough Top 10 Holiday Park (42 NSD per site)
  • The Martinborough Hotel – Originally built in 1882 and lovingly restored, this classic hotel is the nicest place to stay in town.
  • Martinborough Motel – Budget option
Seal Colony, North Island Itinerary, New Zealand | Moon & Honey Travel

Day 19: Cape Palliser

If you decide to drive to Cape Palliser, you’ll be rewarded with rugged coastal scenery, a seal colony, a historical lighthouse and an opportunity to hike into NZ weirdest landform.

See & Do

  • Putangirua Pinnacles – The hike to the pinnacles starts at the Putangirua Pinnacles campsite. The pillars consist of partially cemented greywacke gravels that have been contoured by water and wind. This badlands-like landscape was also a Lord of the Rings filming location!
  • Seal Colony – Before reaching the Lighthouse, look for the North Island’s largest fur seal colony.
  • Cape Palliser Lighthouse –  It takes 252 steps to reach the candy-cane Cape Palliser Lighthouse. Operating since 1897, the cast iron lighthouse originally burned oil. Today, it’s fully automated and its light can be seen for 46 km.

Stay in Martinborough or Putangirua Pinnacles (Campers Only)

  • Putangirua Pinnacles Campground (6 NSD per person) is located at the trailhead to the Pinnacles walk.
  • The Martinborough Hotel Originally built in 1882 and lovingly restored, this classic hotel is the nicest place to stay in town.
  • Martinborough Motel – Budget option
New Zealand North Island Three Week Itinerary | Moon & Honey Travel

Days 20-21: Wellington

Wellington is the small heart-beating capital of New Zealand. If you’re craving art, theater, museums, Wellington is the place to be. We loved eating our way around town as well as attending a Royal New Zealand Ballet performance. Make sure to spend some time in New Zealand’s national museum: Te Papa (Free Entry).

Eat

  • Comes & Goes (in Petone) – Creative, and beautifully plated dishes with Asian influence. The food is almost too pretty to eat.
  • The Library – Cocktail and wine lounge. If we lived in Wellington, we’d come here every week.
  • Rasa – Malaysian eatery. Reasonably priced and flavorful.

Stay

  • Barnett Street Car Park (30 NSD for 24 hours) – Sunday- Friday. Or, Camp Wellington & Coastal Lodge  (39 NSD per site) – Campground. Bookings are Essential.
  • YHA Wellington – Hostel
  • Gourmet Stay – Hotel

Traveling to the South Island Next?

We took the Interislander Ferry from Wellington to Picton. The ferry is 3 hours. There’s a bar, café and shop on board, making the crossing a leisurely ride. Check out our South Island Itinerary.

New Zealand Resources

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A Complete North Island New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary | Moon & Honey Travel
Moon & Honey Travel Resources
External Resources
  • DOC (Department of Conservation) – you’ll find every DOC trail, hut, camping ground and national park on this website.
  • MetService – weather forecast. We used this site religiously, when planning out hiking dates.
  • Day Walks in New Zealand: 100 Great Tracks by Shaun Barnett & Geographx – we used this book religiously to figure out where we wanted to hike.
  • Lonely Planet New Zealand – indispensable guide for traveling in NZ. We consulted our LP throughout our whole trip. We also bought the the Lonely Planet’s New Zealand’s Best Trips book. This is a road trip guide that gives you a good visual understanding of how regions are connected and how to plan your trip. Buying both was a bit redundant, but it did simplify the planning process.

There are some affiliate links in this itinerary. If you make a booking or a purchase using the links, we’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you. It’s how we cover the costs of running the blog!

@moonhoneytravelers
  • Üsküdar is rarely a first, second, or third choice for places to explore in Istanbul. There are no trendy cafés, vintage shops, or entertainment venues here. But, we’d argue that Üsküdar delivers a completely authentic experience and gives visitors an opportunity to hop off the tourist track. This Asian-side district has many treasures. We’ve been uncovering them slowly this past week, starting with this mosque. The light-filled interior of Marmara University Faculty of Theology Mosque is poetry embodied. Can’t wait to share more of our finds this week.
  • We’re celebrating our blog’s one year anniversary. It’s filled with travel guides and hiking guides for destinations in Europe and Asia. We’re really proud of what we’ve accomplished. There’s always room for improvement and an endless list of things to do, but today we’re just going to say “it’s pretty damn good.” Have you checked it out? Come say hi! Link in bio, or moonhoneytravel.com
  • We‘ve been traveling almost continuously for 13 months. Being able to travel long term is an incredible privilege and gift. When we started our trip, we were out exploring every day at full speed. We didn’t want to miss anything. And, we felt an immense obligation to see and do as much as we possibly could. But after months on the road and getting destroyed by illness (more on that later), we decided that we needed to change our travel style.

We‘ve been in Istanbul for 1.5 months. Do we want to see more of Turkey? Of course! However, right now it feels right to stay here and soak up the vibe of one of the world‘s greatest cities.

Petsitting has allowed us to slow down and rest on the road and afford long term travel. 
If you’re interested in housesitting, we highly recommend @trustedhousesitters . To join, click the link in our bio. You’ll get 20% off the membership fee. Once you‘re a member, you can search for opportunities across the world. Yay for free accommodation and pets! 😺Photo of Oscar, the cat we‘re taking care of in Istanbul. #notsponsored
  • We’ve been pretty absent here the last week. Honestly, we needed a break. It’s terrifying to see how much time we waste aimlessly scrolling and clicking around on Instagram. We love seeing our friends and favorite bloggers’ updates (@eternalarrival @thesandyfeet @practicalwanderlust @alongdustyroads @lostwithpurpose to name a few), but we don’t want to get sucked in and realize a whole hour is gone. 
We’re curious, do you feel like you spend too much time on the app? And if so, what tools are you using to modify your Insta-behavior?

We tried simply logging out, but as soon as we logged back in, we were back at it. One thing that’s been helpful is the “manage your time” notification that’s actually built into Instagram. If you click the hamburger menu (top right) and then “Your Activity,” you can see exactly how many minutes, or hours, you’re spending on the app each day. Directly below the graph, there’s a manage your time section that lets you enable a daily reminder. You set it to how many minutes you want to spend on the app. When you reach that threshold, Instagram will notify you.

Travel Update: We’re still in Istanbul. We’re pet-sitting for the next 10 days and then heading somewhere we’ve never been before.
  • Another vantage point of our favorite waterside mosque in Istanbul. Doesn’t it look like its floating in the Bosphorus?
  • Ortaköy Mosque (Büyük Mecidiye Camii) is one of Istanbul‘s most memorable sites. Located in Ortaköy along the Bosphorus, this baroque-style mosque has the most dreamy, pink interior to compliment its stunning exterior.

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