With the Coronavirus not dying down anytime soon, all we can do is a dream. But you know what they say, focus on the journey, not the destination. And planning is part of the journey! Here’s our long-awaited itinerary for New Zealand North Island, with a strong focus on Rotorua, one of the most exciting places the planet has to offer.
Spoiler alert, contrary to what your friends and family might say, North Island isn’t boring at all. It is in fact infused with elements of fun, danger and culture.
If you’re already in NZ, good for you! We are jealous. Do travel domestically to support local businesses.
Our North Island North Island itinerary starts at Wellington and ends at Auckland and is suitable for those who do not have the luxury of time to spend a few weeks/months in New Zealand. Needless to say, 7 days is sadly a short time to spend in such a wonderful country.
Without further ado, let’s begin the journey of your lifetime.
Note: You would need a rental car to get around New Zealand North Island with ease. Intend to tour around the North Island in even less time and budget (not ideal)? You could get a massive discount for doing car rental relocations from Wellington to Auckland. Such rentals typically give relocators a rather tight timeframe, so do weigh the pros and cons before making your decision.
Day 1-2: Wellington – The Longest Drive We Took – Lord of the Rings Only!
These 2 days are dedicated to LOTR fans.
Weta Workshop: Where Tolkien’s Universe Come To Life
The first stop is the Weta Workshop, a 58,000 square foot facility that houses a creative crew and a wholesome range of design and manufacture departments.
Image Source: Weta Workshop
The Weta Workshop is an Academy Award-winning creative design and physical effects facility, best known for its work on LOTR and the Hobbit Trilogies.
Ready to hop in? The workshop is fortunately open to the public for tours for fans to immerse deeply into Tolkien’s universe. Explore the weaponry from every Tolkien race and snap a selfie with the creatures!
Kaitoke Regional Park: Film Set for Rivendell & Fords of Isen
Image Source: Flickr
Immerse yourself in the enchanting rainforest of Kaitoke Regional Park. With its prime location set amid the picturesque background of ageless Rata and Rimu (some estimated to be over 1200 years old!) It’s with no doubt it was selected as the filming venue for Rivendell and the Fords of Isen in the The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.
Putangirua Pinnacles: Caused by Badlands Erosion?
The Putangirua Pinnacles (officially Pūtangirua Pinnacles, known colloquially by LOTR fans simply as The Pinnacles) are a geological formation and one of New Zealand’s best examples of badlands erosion. It allows you to rewind and travel back in time in Earth history. This was also featured in LOTR where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli travelled as a trio to make an unspeakable deal with the cursed army of the dead who haunted the White Mountain.
Take a walk to the magnificent Putangirua Pinnacles or further for excellent views of Palliser Bay and Lake Onoke. There are shorter options are more suited for kids so you’ll still get to enjoy even if you have a lil’ one with you.
Mount Ngaruhoe: Don’t Call it Mount Doom!
We have heard that locals don’t really favour tourists calling Mount Ngaruhoe Mount Doom.
With all that said, this is still the mountain which Frodo and Sam climbed up to destroy the One Ring.
Mt. Ngaruhoe is definitely not to be missed, especially when you have driven such a long distance. There are several short walks from the i-SITE Visitor Information Centre, where you can view Mount Ngaruhoe in its magnificence safely and in your comfort.
We did not climb Mount Ngaruhoe or hike the Tongariro Crossing though, as this is definitely not for faint-hearted hobbits. Trampers are discouraged to climb this mountain though.
If you do end up embarking on this hike, do exercise precautions and ensure that you’re adequately prepared. You are unable to ascend to the peak of the mountain though since it is sacred Maori ground. Trample at your own risk!
We decided to make further up North of Taupo to rest for the night but you can definitely choose to stay in Whakapapa.
Where we stayed: Airbnb @ Taupo City Centre
Day 3: A Day in Taupo – Pronounced as ‘Toe-paw’
The World’s Only McDonalds in an Airplane
This is a worthwhile McDonald’s, probably the most unique in the world and only found in New Zealand North Island.
Get ready for an aviation photo op! You can admire a real DC3 Viewmaster (so named for the extra big windows) from the outside, climb on board to sit at tables, look through the special windows at the car park, check out the cockpit, read the information plaques and see old-time photos of the DC3.
This is a must-stop when you visit Taupo!
Huka Falls – Spectacular & Unreal Falls That Simply exists
Now, make your way to Huka Falls. This is where one of the most iconic scenes in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was filmed. The dwarves were escaping from the captivity of the Elves by hiding in barrels which were thrown downstream.
Can’t recall? Here’s the video snippet to jolt your memory!
How can such a spectacular element of nature exist? Have a narrow river section form beside a wide riverbed. Huka Falls is a perfect example of dangerous beauty. According to locals, fatality occurs when visitors do not have a strong respect for the river and end up drowning in it. Please do not try to swim in these treacherous waters.
Other activities you may consider while you are in Taupo:
Day 4: Rotorua – Welcome to the Sulphur City!
Rotorua is no doubt New Zealand North Island’s coolest hot spots as it provides adventure playground with a great range of activities to enjoy for any age. You could visit Rotorua as a weekend getaway or simply spend a few days here as there are countless things to do!
The Squeeze Tour by New Zealand Riverjet
Start your day off with a bang (or splash, literally)! If you’re there in summer, it would be a perfect cooldown. Or if you’re there in the winter, fret not, this activity can still be enjoyed as you can enjoy the natural hot springs due to the geothermal activity in the area.
Want to know more about The Squeeze? NZ Riverjet is reopening for business from 30th May 2020 onwards. Safety precautions will be in place as it is necessary to protect the wonderful team and customers.
Check out our review here: Jet boat in New Zealand: Why You Must Do The Squeeze Tour in Rotorua
Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland – NZ’s Most Colourful Geothermal Region
A few thousand years of volcanic activity is all it takes to sculpt a wonderland of amazing geothermal activity.
Proven and tested – You don’t really need a filter to capture the vibrant colours of the geothermal features. The most iconic one being Champagne Pool (the cover photo you see on Tripadvisor).
So, as they said, leave the filter at home!
And explore the magnificent thermal wonderland or the Lady Knox Geyser!
Full write up here: Taking a Stroll in New Zealand’s Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
Where we stayed: Airbnb in Rotorua
Day 5: Immerse Yourself into Rorotua’s Nature, Culture & Heritage
Whakarewarewa – The Only Living Maori Village You Can Find
Immerse yourself in authentic Maori culture with locals welcoming you with open arms. They are more than happy to educate you about their culture and share their homes with you.
There are also several Maori Villages in Rotorua itself and honestly, you will be spoilt for choices but we decided to go with Whakarewarewa due to its authenticity and availability of tours. There are some villages that only operate at certain timings due to the nature of the tour so do ample research and book your tickets before showing up at the village to avoid disappointment!
Check out our full write up here: Most Authentic New Zealand Māori Culture Experience – Whakarewarewa
Waimangu Volcanic Valley – The Youngest Geothermal Park
If you can’t get enough of the geothermal wonders, you could visit Waimangu Valley. The landscapes are vastly different from Wai-O-Tapu but still as interesting.
There are also plenty of other geothermal activities/parks in Rotorua, which we would have visited if we had the luxury of time because we simply couldn’t get enough of the stunning natural beauty.
Check out our full write up here: A quick drive from Wai-O-Tapu lies Waimangu – Youngest Geothermal Park
Paddle & Chill in the Glowworm Caves – Paddleboard Rotorua
If you still can’t get enough of Rotorua and what it offers, consider paddling into glowworm caves in the evening and this activity is uniquely Rotorua. Glowworms in New Zealand caves are definitely a must-do while you are here. All you need is a sense of adventure, a waterproof camera and your swimwear.
Check out our full writeup here: Paddle Board Rotorua – Kayak to Glow Worms in New Zealand Caves!
Day 6: A Day at Rotovegas – Skyline Rotorua
Government Gardens: Museum Doors Are Closed But…
Unfortunately for inquisitive travellers who wish to explore the building, the Elizabethan-style Bath House which housed the museum is closed for the foreseeable future as the building has fallen below earthquake safety standards.
What was once a state of the art bathhouse that offers therapeutic baths to weary travellers from all over the world, the building is now a monument to the New Zealand Government’s first major investment in the tourist industry.
Skyline Rotorua: The Most Spectacular Way to view Lake Rotorua
See Rotorua by Gondola or by Luge! Skyline in New Zealand North Island has something for everyone in your family.
Of course, you could opt for the Gondola only but having tried and tested the activities, including the Gondola, Luge and Zoom Zipline, you are highly recommended to try the combo of all activities if you’re up for a massive adrenaline rush!
If you have visited Skyline Queenstown and think it’s enough, you might be wrong! Skyline Queenstown does not have Zoom Ziplines as one of its attractions, so if you are into ziplining, Skyline Rotorua is hands down the one to visit.
We ended our jam-packed day with a gourmet buffet at Stratosfare Restaurant. COVID-19 however, Stratosfare Restaurant will remain closed until further notice but do keep a lookout if you’re still around as Stratosfare is definitely a world-class restaurant and perfect to end your day with.
Check out our full writeup here: Skyline Rotorua: A Must-Do in North Island New Zealand
Day 7: Hobbiton Movie Film Set Tour
It’s finally time for what everyone is in the New Zealand North Island for – The Hobbiton Movie Film Set Tour! Only a short 45 minutes drive from Rotorua lies the home of the Hobbits, Matamata.
Hobbiton is ALWAYS Packed, Book Way in Advance!
The film set was originally farmland scouted by Peter Jackson and his crew prior to the filming of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. According to the guides, the party tree was the most defining element of the farmland that made Peter Jackson choose it as the choice of filming the Shire and Hobbiton.
The reason why this film set is only popular now? That’s because the entire set was temporary during the days of the LOTR trilogy and it was agreed to have the set torn down, much like the film set at Mount Sunday, where the Rohhirims resided.
When Peter Jackson approached the owner for the second time, it was a clear no brainer that the film set will be built to stand for eons. Now, fans like you and I can enjoy the same atmosphere and energy that the actors were deeply immersed in.
The Hobbiton Gift Shop: Priced Affordably In Our Opinion
All kinds of Tolkien’s books, maps and merchandise could be found at the souvenir store. We even got our own “No admittance, except on Party Business” sign!
Check out our comprehensive guide on the Hobbiton here: Visiting Hobbiton in New Zealand – A Middle Earth Must-Do! (LOTR/Hobbit)
After that, we headed back to Auckland to end our trip. It was a dreadful goodbye to New Zealand North Island.
As you can tell, this New Zealand North Island Itinerary is heavily focused on Rotorua as we could not get enough of the activities it offers. Do plan the activities based on the time you have and most importantly, according to your budget as we do agree that some activities do not come cheap so choose wisely! The write-ups and pictures are meant to give you a sneak peek into what’s to come so you can hopefully make full use of your time and money.
This post is also available in: 简体中文 (Chinese (Simplified))