If Maori mythology is to be believed, then New Zealand’s North Island is supposedly the spoils of a divine fishing trip undertaken by the god Maui and his brothers. But whether you buy that the North Island is a giant fish or not (we’re not convinced), New Zealand is an immeasurably unique country.
Acquainting yourself with the Kiwi people’s diverse landscape, zany culture and intriguing history is well worth the 11,000 mile journey it takes to get there. However, with the right expertise behind you and some of the world’s most luxurious lodges reserved on the open road ahead, it’s much more than worth it – it’s too compelling not to. There’s such a wealth of things to see and do on both of New Zealand’s islands that we’ve compiled an 18 day itinerary of suggestions to give you a sense of what you can expect from this awe-inspiring destination.
Day 1 – Arrive in Auckland
Undoubtedly, after flying for nearly 24 hours, you probably won’t feel like doing much during your first day in Auckland. At less than half an hour from the airport, situated in the heart of the city, Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour offers a convenient five star luxury welcome to New Zealand – perfect to help you recharge and recuperate, ready for the road ahead.
Day 2 – Auckland to the Bay of Islands
Waking up on your second day in the country’s most populous city of Auckland, your Avis rental car awaits, fully equipped with a sat nav that will not only get you from A to B, but also comes with the option of an informative commentary on the regions you pass through, as well as highlighting the best restaurants, wineries, pubs, cafes and scenery en route. Driving over Auckland Harbour Bridge, the road swiftly sweeps north through acres of rolling hills as you reach the sub-tropical climate of the Bay of Islands, where The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs awaits with spectacular panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
Day 3 – Discover Cape Reinga
Head further north from Kauri Cliffs to New Zealand’s northernmost tip and, along the way, not only will you pass an abundance of jaw-dropping scenery but a full day of fun and adventure also lies ahead. You can enjoy a four wheel drive along 90 Mile beach, which is actually only 55 miles long, go tobogganing down giant sand dunes and visit Cape Reinga Lighthouse. This region also includes Awanui Ancient Kauri Kingdom and the famous Mangonui Fish and Chip Shop, while enticing you with a range of scenery, from orchards and farmland to exotic forests and beautiful beaches on the North Island’s west and east coasts.
Day 4 – Back to Auckland
Just a leisurely two hour drive away is Auckland, where you’re spoilt for choice for boutique hotels, more luxury lodges and countless cultural attractions. One of our personal favourites is The Boatshed, which resides on the nearby Waiheke Island and offers a variety of elegantly appointed suites and villas with mesmerising sea views. Alternatively, if you’re inclined to stay on the mainland, St Mary’s Private Luxury Residence rests Auckland’s outskirts and provides an excellent base from which to explore the city while also offering a perfect taste of suburban Auckland living for anybody thinking of relocating there.
Day 5 – Auckland to Rotorua
Rotorua is the home of New Zealand’s Maori culture and just shy of a three hour drive from Auckland. Best known for its bubbling mud pools, geysers, crystal lakes, steaming cliffs and volcanoes, the region is a nature lover’s dream. Here you can enjoy an enlightening cultural experience at Mitai Maori, where warriors still paddle downstream by canoe and perform ancient dances and rituals as well as providing a delectable hangi meal, serene bush walk, glow worm viewing and a trip to sacred Fairy Spring. Perfectly placed to help you immerse yourself in this ancient wonderland’s magical atmosphere is Treetops Lodge and Estate – a beautiful collection of lodges and villas in the heart of a lush forest.
Day 6 – Rotorua to Taupo
Taupo is home to New Zealand’s largest lake and serves as a popular getaway for New Zealanders from both islands. As you might imagine, water sports attract a fair share of thrill-seekers, but people have been flocking to Lake Taupo since long before speedboats existed and, as with much of the country, it’s the beautiful scenery that draws them. You’re also spoiled for choice when it comes to outstanding hotels and luxury lodges here, in particular, Acacia Cliffs Lodge, perched on a hillside overlooking the lake, really offers some of Lake Taupo’s most exceptional views as well as eye pleasing architecture and interior design.
Day 7 – Taupo to Hawke’s Bay
Hawke’s Bay, on the North Island’s east coast, is a two hour drive from Taupo and is one of New Zealand’s major wine producing regions. Presiding over the southernmost extremity of Hawke’s Bay is Cape Kidnappers, colourfully named after an event that occurred in the bay during New Zealand’s early colonial history. In 1769, a local Maori tribe attempted to kidnap a Tahitian servant assisting Captain Cook’s crew. Cook managed to save the servant and decided to name the headland after the incident. Overlooking the site where this story took place is The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, which sits atop 800ft cliffs in the middle of a 6000 acre sheep and cattle farm. This is an excellent stop for delicious cuisine and relaxation, whether that’s found via indulgent spa treatments, playing on the award-winning par 71 golf course or in the wine cellar and tasting room.
Day 8 – On Yer Bike Winery Tour
At 30 minutes away, Cape Kidnappers is ideally suited to help you enjoy the world-renowned Ngatarawa Triangle grape growing region and its wineries. The self-guided ‘On Yer Bike Winery Tour’ allows you to roll through the breath-taking countryside of Hawke’s Bay, while visiting up to six of its wineries. The tour includes a packed lunch, a mobile phone to arrange collection of any wine purchased on the tour, or even a rescue, in case your cycling legs are suddenly replaced with wobbly wine legs. Of all of the places in New Zealand, this is a big hit with all of our customers who visit there.
Day 9 – Hawke’s Bay to Wellington
The shortest route from Hawke’s Bay to Wellington takes just over four hours, so this day will be much more about enjoying the journey than the actual destination. Depending on how early you set off and how long you actually want to stay, there’s plenty time to enjoy New Zealand’s capital city. By now, after successive days enjoying luxurious countryside lodges, you may be craving a more cosmopolitan experience, and ready to assist is the James Cook Hotel Grand Chancellor with its enviable city centre location. Or if you’re fonder of the rural scene, then Wharekauhau Lodge in the nearby Palliser Bay boasts a much more secluded setting.
Day 10 – Walk Wellington
Arguably, the best way to explore Wellington is on foot. This comprehensive tour is led by enthusiastic local guides with expert knowledge on Wellington’s past, present, people and places that you won’t always find in the guide books. The tour offers a unique insight into the New Zealand capital’s heritage, its dynamic arts and social scene, as well as information about what’s on, the best places to eat and where to shop. You’ll visit the stunning waterfront, vibrant city centre, historic parliamentary neighbourhood and, when the tour is over and you’re at leisure, we recommend taking a cable car to get a more macro view of the city and its architecture.
Day 11 – North to South
With the North Island suitably explored, you’re ready to board the Interislander ferry and cross the Cook Strait to discover New Zealand’s South Island. Of course, you could spend much, much longer exploring the North Island. What we’ve highlighted is only a small sample of what to expect on your journey around ‘The Fish of Maui’, but once you’re suitably satisfied in the north, just across the water to the south, another, even bigger island lies in waiting – Maui’s Canoe.