Kia ora, and welcome to New Zealand’s glorious North Island! With abundant wildlife, sprawling wilderness and thriving culinary and arts scenes, the North Island – also known as Te Ika-a-Māui – is an enchanting introduction to the country’s greatest qualities.
Upon arrival at Wellington Airport (WLG) you’ll be transferred by private vehicle to your stylish hotel, where you’ll enjoy the remainder of your day at leisure. Choose to explore New Zealand’s charming capital on a stroll through the tree-lined streets to one of Wellington’s friendly cafes, or dive into the creative design of The Lord of the Rings on a behind-the-scenes tour of Wētā Workshop.
Get acquainted with Wellington on a guided walking tour of the city. Hear the story of the local artisan food producers and coffee makers who have earned Wellington a reputation as New Zealand’s culinary capital. Weave through hidden lanes decorated with striking street art, uncovering the city’s heritage as you stroll to the waterfront. Before your tour concludes, delve into Kiwi history with a visit to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
This afternoon, Wellington is yours to explore freely. Choose to hop aboard the Kelburn cable car for sweeping views over the harbour at the resplendent Botanic Gardens, or chase the taste of Wellington’s artisan food scene with a visit to Wellington Chocolate Factory, an award-winning craft chocolate maker just a short walk from Te Papa.
While you're in the neighbourhood, perhaps spend some more time exploring the exhibitions of this exciting museum, or choose to visit the beautiful Zealandia, formerly known as Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, for a tranquil opportunity to discover this urban ecosanctuary near the Karori Reservoir. For those interested in politics, choose to take a guided tour of the Parliament buildings.
Today, your driving tour begins in earnest as you collect your vehicle from Budget Rental Car’s Wellington City Depot and set off for the rolling countryside. Make your way through the Hutt Valley and across the mystifying Remutaka Range to Wairarapa, famed for its gourmet food and vineyards. Choose to stop at the Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre at Mount Bruce to witness the work done to support native wildlife, including the curious kiwi.
Continue to the rugged farming region of Hawke’s Bay and check-in at your comfortable hotel, then take a private transfer to Mission Estate Winery. Established in 1851, Mission Estate is the country’s oldest winery. In total, you'll traverse just over 320 kilometres today, with the drive taking between four and five hours. Enjoy a spectacular three-course dinner with one glass of wine and admire elegant architecture and magnificent views.
This morning, take a short scenic drive from Napier to Te Awanga, where you’ll join an overland safari to one of the world’s largest gannet colonies. Follow the lead of your driver-guide as they take you across rivers and pastures, through the bush and over steep gullies on your way to a clifftop stop with panoramic views over Hawke’s Bay.
Learn about the farming history of Cape Kidnappers Station as you approach the cliff’s edge colony, then step out to breathe in the crisp ocean air and watch as thousands of these elegant seabirds rise and rest mere steps away. Later, return to Napier for the rest of your day at leisure. With its Art Deco style, owing to reconstruction efforts that followed the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake, Napier is a stylish hub amid New Zealand’s renowned wine region.
Buckle up for another breathtaking drive as you climb through the dense Ahimanawa Range to Taupo. Pass through the Kaingaroa Forest, planted in the 1920s and covering some 2,900 square kilometres, then emerge on the shores of mesmerising Lake Taupo. Stretching 40 kilometres from Taupo to Turangi, New Zealand’s biggest lake is a popular holiday destination for those seeking a taste of the great outdoors. You'll traverse just over 140 kilometres today, with the drive taking approximately two hours.
Once checked in at your accommodation, the rest of the day is at your leisure to explore the town or soak up the serenity of this scenic wonder. Consider joining one of Taupo's thrill-seeking activities with a wide array of options, from scenic flights to bungee jumping, white water rafting to tandem skydiving, or unwind in the region's famed revitalising thermal pools.
Enjoy a delicious three-course dinner this evening at your hotel.
Jump into the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Taupo on a day of outdoor adventuring. Board the Cruise Cat and set off across the crater lake that marks the site of the 186 BCE Oruanui eruption – the largest eruption of the past 5,000 years. View the jaw-dropping Māori rock carvings at Ngatoroirangi Mine Bay and learn about volcanic history and the region's cultural heritage over light refreshments. The mesmerising snow-capped mountain peaks of the World Heritage Tongariro National Park make for spectacular views.
Back on shore, transfer to Opepe Forest for a guided walk and picnic lunch. Weave between soaring podocarp trees and keep your eyes on the canopy as you search for active birdlife. Hear the story of Te Kooti’s War and the region’s violent colonial history, then contemplate this knowledge in the peaceful presence of knowing trees.
Later, board a jet boat for an exhilarating river ride surrounded by native bushland and natural hot springs. Hold tight as your professional driver shoots downstream to the surging Huka Falls. Return to Taupo for the rest of your day spent freely.
Leave behind the inland shores of Lake Taupo and travel north through the geothermal area of Wairakei, passing the Arapuni hydroelectric power station. Reach the Waikato region, known for its thriving dairy farming, then drive to Waitomo. The drive to Waitomo will see you cover 163 kilometres in two and a half hours. Here, you’ll take a scenic shuttle with an experienced guide, who will lead you through the bush and into the cavernous dark of Footwhistle Glowworm Cave.
By candlelight, discover the elaborate and ancient rock formations, then witness the bones of the ancient moa – an extinct flightless bird that could grow to over three metres tall. Unearth the intricacies of the cave’s unique wildlife, including the ‘titiwai’ or glowworm, then turn out the lights for the feature presentation: a subterranean spectacle of bioluminescent blue. Take a seat and watch Footwhistle’s Cathedral illuminated by the dazzling light of a magnesium torch.
Reemerge into bright daylight and start your engine as you travel through Otorohanga or ‘Kiwiana Town’, known for its display of significant Kiwi cultural icons. Continue past the extinct volcanic peak of Mount Pirongia and drive alongside the Waikato River – the country’s longest stream – on your way to the northwest reaches, where you’ll find friendly Auckland. The drive is just over 200 kilometres and is expected to take just under three hours.
If you plan to stay longer to discover Auckland’s charming treasures, you can drop off your rental car in town. For those ready to head home, drive your car to Auckland Airport (AKL), where your journey concludes.