In this blog post, I share my 4 day itinerary through the North Island of New Zealand. If New Zealand is on your bucket list of places to travel, then you won’t want to miss this blog post and the following post on our continuation to the South Island. In these posts, I’ve included travel and stress management tips to keep you prepared, relaxed, and having the most fun on your vacation!
My husband and I had a glorious international trip to Auckland. Total travel time from the Midwest was 19 hours with 2 quick layovers that were less than an hour. Our longest flight from Los Angeles to Auckland (12 hours) was only 25% full. My husband and I were able to sprawl out in a row to ourselves and each slept for a solid 7 hours.
- Don’t forget to bring a travel pillow
When we arrived in the Airport, it took us about 45 minutes to go through customs and to gather our rental car.
- Don’t bring extra food on the airplane for hiking or other New Zealand activities unless you are okay with waiting in a Customs line to declare your food items
The rental car experience was stressful. In New Zealand, the driver sits on the right side of the car and all vehicles drive on the left side of the road. Everything is backwards and is quite stressful if you’re the one driving.
Stress management tip:
- If you’re not driving, be extra mindful of your own “backseat driving.” Try to be mindful that your driver is likely very stressed themselves and will need some time to get acclimated. They obviously don’t want to get into an accident themselves and are doing everything they can to keep everyone safe. Be as patient, calm, and reassuring as possible (yes, it’s hard- I know).
My husband and I drove to pick up another couple we were traveling with, and continued down to Waitomo to begin our first New Zealand adventure.
From the Auckland Airport, it took us roughly 2.5 hours to drive to Waitomo Black Caves- Glow Worms.
We stopped at Fat Kiwi Café, changed into our bathing suits, and then headed to our activity.
- Coffee drinkers: Kiwis love putting ice cream into their coffee. If you’re looking for just an iced black coffee, you’ll want to order either a Short Black, Long Black or Americano. Essentially, these are 1-2 espresso shots diluted with water
- If you’re doing the Glow Worms, you’ll want to make sure you have a towel packed and toiletries for showering. Otherwise, expect to pay $15 NZD for a towel in their gift shop
The Glow Worm activity was exhilarating, a bit cold (but avoidable if you were good at picking a tightly fitting wet suit), and about 3 hours long.
You definitely want to stop at Huhu Café for dinner / drinks. The food was incredible (especially the lamb entrees)!
That night, we stayed at an AirBNB and got up early for our long Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike (19.4 km).
- Be sure you bring 2 water bottles (each person) and plenty of food. The hike took us about 7 hours to complete
- You’ll park your car at the end of the hike, and then take a 30 minute shuttle to the start (~ $40 NZD / person for shuttle reservations)
- Take an early shuttle and buffer in some extra time to park and figure out where the shuttle pick up is. The earlier shuttles fill up fast, so if you miss your reserved time slot (and you’re with a group), you may have to wait an extra hour until there’s more room on a later shuttle
- Wear (and reapply sunscreen)! You won’t feel yourself burning
- Bring layers because the top of the hike gets pretty chilly. I wore capri pants, cotton socks, hiking boots, workout tank top, zippie, vest, and a baseball hat. I also brought thin gloves and a fleece headband and ended using every piece of clothing I packed.
- Bring 1 roll of toilet paper and hand sanitizer
- Bring 2 plastic bags – 1 for trash, and 1 to sit on at the top of the mountain
After the hike, we stopped in the town for a bite to eat at Tongariro Tavern and then grabbed a few groceries (and aloe!) at their local store New World.
The next morning, we grabbed a coffee at Revive before jumping back in the car to Rotorua.
The drive from Waitomo to Rotorua took us about 2 hours.
We ate on the go with some light bites and drove straight to the Luging track for some scenic downhill fun. We did 3 trail rides over the course of about 1-1.5 hours.
We weren’t sure if it was going to be exhilarating or not, but for 4 adults, we actually had a lot of fun and really got competitive with each other on the race tracks!
After luging, we grabbed a quick bite at a local café. The food in NZ is just delicious. You can’t go wrong with quick bites at cute cafes- they truly have tasty fresh food that’s convenient and easy to enjoy when you’re on the run.
Stress Management Tip:
- Take a minute to regroup and calculate your timeline for the day. Allow yourself enough time to sit, eat, and drink in peace without stressing about departure times and a “go-go-go” mentality.
- Have less than 30 minutes? Stop by a grocery store or grab some healthy snacks at a gas station
- Only have 45 minutes? Catch a café
- Have 1.5 hours? Enjoy a sit-down restaurant and take your time
I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous when our guide was talking about the serious risks associated with the river and waterfalls we were about to raft through.
Oh- and not to mention- the other 2 tour guides on our raft were there intentionally because it was our main guide’s first time leading a group. Gulp.
But we survived! =)
Stress Management Tip:
- If you’re someone who’s afraid of adrenaline pumping activities, there’s nothing wrong with speaking up or sitting an activity out and letting the group go on without you
If you’re 50:50 on doing an adrenaline pumping activity… DO IT. Accept that it will be scary and look around- there are a ton of people who have done it before you and who are going through it with you too. Just go for it. The memories are worth it!
After white water rafting, we unpacked at our AirBNB (with a beautiful lakefront view) before heading out to downtown Rotorua to check out their night life scene.
- If we had more time, we would have enjoyed dipping into a mud bath or hot spring
- Some of our white water rafting Kiwi guides mentioned local hot springs that are free to the public that are worth exploring. Bring some snacks, a bottle of wine, and enjoy a relaxing sulfuric soak!
- Another activity we didn’t get a chance to do was hike in the Red Wood Forest. Apparently, there was a quick 40 minute roundtrip walk (easy trail) that you could do at night that was supposed to be a noteworthy / romantic experience. We probably would have done this (since it was really close to our AirBNB), but we didn’t get done with dinner until 10:30pm and were pretty wiped from the day.
The next morning, we woke up early to catch a morning flight out of Rotorua Airport to fly to ChristChurch on the South Island.
Stress Management Tips:
- Pack as much as you can the night before an early morning flight, to lessen anxiety
- If you have a rental car, add in 15-20 minutes to fill up on gas (some gas stations aren’t open early in the morning, and some stations require you pay inside where you may have to wait in line)
- This will give you enough time to return your rental car at the airport (which is cute and small) and to return your car keys (inside the Arrivals building)
There is no security / TSA in the Rotorua airport. As soon as you check in at the kiosk and drop off your bag, treat yourself to a tasty breakfast sandwich and coffee at their airport café. Again- the food was surprisingly fresh and tasty for being in an airport, and not too expensive!
- You can hang out at the airport café until they announce your flight. All you have to do is walk through a double door, scan your ticket, and you’ll be good to board your plane in < 3 minutes. Super easy!
Despite being on the North Island for less than 1 week, we were able to squeeze in a lot of activities! If you have more time to spend in New Zealand, you don’t want to miss my next itinerary – the South Island of New Zealand!
Curious of my next fun adventure?
- Hang out in the Facebook Group to see where else I’m off to this year!
- Want more? Get travel inspiration, health & wellness tips, and stress management advice with my weekly e-newsletter.