Escape the crowds with our North Island New Zealand Itinerary from Auckland to Tongariro National Park. Find secret local spots and top tips to avoid the masses without missing the New Zealand must do's.
Auckland – Get out of the city!
With most people starting their New Zealand itinerary in Auckland, it’s easy to see how the city can get busy. Devonport and Waiheke Island are popular day trips from the city’s ferry port, offering some stunning scenery but can get really crowded in the peak tourism seasons.
However, it’s easy to get away from the crowds by exploring a little further. If you have a car, it’s easy to get out and about, or there are tour companies that can show you their favourite spots.
Wild Adventures show you an Auckland that many visitors don’t see. Duder Regional park offers stunning views of the Hauraki Golf, historic sites, native forest and a great day in the outdoors.
Out to the west is the rugged black sandy beaches of Piha and Muriwai, and stunning native forest of the Waitakere ranges. Bush & Beach offer day tours with expert local guides who can show you the best of these areas.
Waitomo - More than just glow worms
If you want to see Waitomo glow worm caves but don’t want to be with hundreds of other people, check out some of the smaller operators like Glowing Adventures or Spellbound . Private caves and smaller groups take you away from the masses and the glow worms are just as impressive. For day tours to Waitomo from Rotorua, check out Thermal Land Shuttle.
Marokopa Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in New Zealand, and often overlooked by the hoards of people heading to Waitomo. It’s totally worth the extra 40 minute drive to get there, and there’s a great walk at Mangapohue Natural Bride in the way.
Did you know Waitomo isn’t the only place you can see glow worms? Rotorua has heaps of them, so if you’re short of time, save the drive out to Waitomo and book an off the beaten track night tour with Real Rotorua.
Or, if getting out on the water is your thing, Paddle Board Rotorua run a glowworm Stand UP Paddle Board tour, taking you through lakeside glow worm filled tunnels and into caves. The sunsets out on the lake are pretty spectacular too.
Matamata - Hobbiton without the hoards
Hobbiton is one of the most popular attractions in New Zealand. While there are many tours taking you to Lord of the Rings locations, there really is no alternative to the Hobbiton Movie Set.
But there is a way to avoid the busloads of Hobbit enthusiasts. The Evening Banquet Tour has limited numbers and provides a unique evening tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set and a Hobbit style feast in the Green Dragon Pub. Seeing the Shire lit up at night and exploring with lanterns without the crowds of people is well worth the price for this premium experience.
This experience books out months in advance, so well worth booking this one in early!
Bay of Plenty – Discover deserted white sandy beaches
The Coromandel has stunning beaches and is normally a must-do on North Island itineraries. But, if you’re hear in the New Zealand School Holidays, you’ll find yourself surrounded by domestic and international tourists everywhere you go. The roads can get really busy and you have to get to the main spots super early to avoid being surrounded by people.
The Bay of Plenty is less popular with tourists, but has some amazing beaches, coastal walks, sleepy villages and unique attractions. While Mount Maunganui is definitely a tourist magnet, Waihi Beach, Kati Kati or Maketu are great hidden spots to check out. Toi’s Track is a stunning coastal walkway, starting in Whakatane and heading over the headlands to the white sandy beach of Ohope before returning over the tops back to Whakatane. Highlights include the views from Kohi point and the picturesque Otarawairere Bay along the way.
Rotorua – Maori Culture, geothermal & forests
Rotorua has long been known for Maori cultural experiences. Te Puia offers a great insight into Maori Arts & Crafts, Tamaki Maori Village is rated among the Top 10 experiences in the World.
If that’s not your thing, Kahukiwi Experiences offer a small group personalised cultural experience with a difference. Travel with your Maori guide on private land in a luxury 4WD vehicle, see the Marae (meeting house) and learn local stories as you soak up panoramic views over the Rotorua lakes district.
A geothermal attraction is certain to be on your North Island Itinerary while you're in Rotorua. Waimangu Volcanic Valley is quieter than some of the other more well-known Rotorua geothermal attractions. Arrive early in the morning to catch it at its quietest while the crowds are gathering at nearby Wai-o-Tapu to see the Lady Knox Geyser at 10.15am.
Whirinaki Forest is a hidden gem in the North Island, a short drive from Rotorua. While people flock to the Rotorua Redwoods in their thousands to experience the trails and the Redwoods Treewalk, Whirinaki remains largely unexplored. For some expert wildlife knowledge of the best trails, check out one of the guided birding and hiking tours with Foris Eco-Tours.
Taupo – Local’s Top Tips
You can’t beat getting the inside scoop from a local. Logan from Go Explore offers day trips around Taupo and the surrounding areas. You can choose a set day tour, or they are flexible and can show you the best bits of Taupo including the Aratiatia Dam, Huka Falls, the Maori Rock Carvings on Lake Taupo and geothermal areas.
Tongariro National Park - Avoid the masses in the mountains
The Tongariro Crossing is extremely popular and with shuttle access to take you to and from either end of the trail, the trail can seem to be a never-ending line of people treading the same path.
The Taranaki Falls track from Whakapapa Village offers spectacular views of Mt Ngauruhoe and the Tongariro National Park without the hoards. Head up to Tama Lakes for a longer day hike. These can also be done as a day trip from Rotorua or Taupo with Foris Eco-Tours.
If you’ve got your own transport, head into the Kaimanawa Forest Park from the Dessert Road. Mt Urchin Track climbs through stunning native forest up to the alpine tops with stunning views across to Tongariro National Park. No transport? Go Explore can take you there from Taupo.