5 Day New Zealand North Island Itinerary For The Outdoors Lover

We had dedicated most of our two week New Zealand trip to the incredibly scenic south island, but we did want to save several days to explore some of the warmer coastal regions and redwood forests of the north island.

After our 10 days on the south island, we only had 5 days on the north island, and we knew a couple of those would be dedicated to scuba diving the Poor Knight's Island, so we limited our itinerary to the northern area. This trip was taken November 9-24th.


Day 1: Auckland to Cathedral Cove to Rotorua

Total Driving: 5h 20min

Since we landed so early in the morning, we figured we would hit the ground running on our first day on the North Island. It was about a two and a half hour drive to Cathedral Cove, where we would enjoy our only beach day of the entire trip. This short visit to the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve only gave us a small taste of how beautiful the Coromandel coast is.

After lounging on the beach for a couple hours, it was so hard to gather our things and leave the relaxing beach to head to Rotorua, where we would be staying for the next couple of days.

Top left to right: In the archway at Cathedral Cove, looking out over the Coromandel coast. Bottom left to right: going for a swim out from the beach at Cathedral Cove, in front of Te Hoho Rock at Cathedral Cove

Can't Miss These Things To Do

More Things To Do

  • Visit New Chums Beach at low tide for that perfect white sandy beach
  • Summit The Pinnacles and stay at the hut up there.. I would have loved to do this if we had more time!
  • Visit Kaiate Falls on the way to Rotorua, just one of many waterfalls we had on our list
  • Look into visiting the stunning Omanawa Falls

Day 2-3: Rotorua

After all of the driving on the South Island, we wanted to slow things down a bit, so we ended up spending most of our North Island time in Rotorua. Rotorua is such a unique town, and I'm not referring to its sulfur egg smell!

We did so much in this area from white water rafting, exploring the redwoods, soaking in some naturally warm rivers, to luging down the side of the mountain in a cart. Even though we spent the majority of our trip in Rotorua, we could have stayed an additional couple days to do the things that we didn't have time for.

Top left to right: a particularly thick grove in the redwood forest, soaking in the Hot and Cold free natural spring, a clear blue pond in the Whakarewarewa Forest. Bottom left to right: in the skyline tram on the way up to the luge, walking through one of the paths in the Whakarewarewa Forest, exploring upstream at the secret spring.

Can't Miss These Things To Do

  • Go white water rafting on the Kaituna river with Kaitiaki Adventures where you can raft down the world's tallest commercially-rafted waterfall at 23 feet tall!
  • Pretend you're in Mario Kart and race down the mountainside in a luge at Skyline Rotorua. We liked this location better than the Queenstown location for the more advanced tracks and steeper runs!
  • Soak in a natural hot spring at a secret spring called Hot and Cold
  • Take a nice stroll through a stand of California redwoods at the Whakarewarewa Forest
  • Have a taste of Italy at Pizzeria Imperfetto, our favorite food find in Rotorua

More Things To Do

  • Soak at Kerosene Creek, but try to go during off times as this attraction has gotten quite popular
  • Visit Wai-o-tapu, a park to see thermal attractions like the Lady Knox Geyser, Champagne Pool, and the neon green Devil's Pool.
  • Visit Waimangu Volcanic Valley, the world's youngest geothermal system which also happens to contain the largest hot spring in the world
  • Take a break from the outdoors and let out your inner child at the highly-rated 3D Trick Art Gallery
  • Visit the nearby Lake Tarawera and walk around the gorgeous lake

Day 3: Rotorua to Tutukaka

Total driving: 5h 10min

Time to head up to the Northland Region for some more coastal views! We had a long drive today, but planned to break up the drive with a stop at Whangarei Falls. By the time we got to Tutukaka, we were able to check into our lovely Airbnb and catch the sunset on the coast. I really loved how the coast up in this area felt like time moved at a more relaxed pace, and it was quite refreshing to get away from all of the tourists.

Top left to right: hiking right up to the Whangarei Falls, walking down to the mermaid pools, the view of the Whangarei Falls from the approach, split shot using the gDome of the tide pools at the mermaid pools, the view from the Whangarei Falls viewpoint, looking out over Matapouri Bay

Can't Miss These Things To Do

  • Make the short walk to see the 85 foot tall Whangarei Falls
  • Visit the Mermaid Pools at low tide where you can swim in some of the tide pools right by the ocean

More Things To Do

  • The coast near Matapouri was so gorgeous, especially Whale Bay, a slightly hidden bay and beach that requires some walking from the parking lot 

Day 4: Poor Knights Islands

This was one of the days I was most excited for on the entire trip. We reserved 3 days out of our entire trip just to dive the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve, a protected area 14 miles offshore with a variety of marine life.

Jacques Cousteau has even rated this spot as one of the top ten dives in the world! We even got to do a bit of bird watching from the boat, as around two million Bullers Shearwaters nest on these islands, the only place they nest in the world.

We also got to motor around the sea stacks and enter Rikoriko, the world's largest surveyed sea cave.

We booked a two tank dive with Dive Tutukaka, which included a full set of rental gear, a divemaster guide, and lunch for the day. For the first dive we dove Middle Arch on the main rock stack, where we jumped right into a salp bloom, saw nudibranchs, stingray, rockfish, large schools of fish, eels, and we even got to surface in a cave and breath in some musty cave air 15 feet underwater! 

For the second dive, we headed to the Pinnacles to dive Tie Dye Arch, where we saw some incredible fish life, lots of stingray, and the largest lobster I've ever seen. We even spotted a blue shark during our surface interval! I'd love to come back and dive again during a different time as the divemaster told us how the types of animals you can see underwater vary greatly depending on the currents at the time - you can get cold water animals that are commonly found in kelp forests like the ones we encountered, or you can also find tropical species!

Top left to right: about to surface in an underwater cave, fish feeding on a salp bloom, fish photobomb at Poor Knights Island. Middle left to right: the boat parked at the Pinnacles, diving the marine reserve, viewing an arch on the island. Bottom left to right: a moray eel underwater, about to descend at the Pinnacles dive site, inside the world's largest surveyed sea cave.

Can't Miss These Things To Do

  • If you're a diver, then diving the Poor Knights is a must do.
  • Eat at Schnappa Rock Restaurant and Bar after you're done. They have outdoor seating and a nice view of the harbor

Day 5: Tutukaka to Auckland

Total driving: 3h

After our dives, we got to relax and explore some of the tidepools and soft flat sand in the several coves in the area. It was a perfect way to unwind after an incredible two weeks in New Zealand, and we were sad to be heading back to the airport to be leaving such a beautiful country.


What to read next?

Click here to read about what kinds of views you can find on the South Island!


Favorite gear for this trip: