The ULTIMATE One Week New Zealand Itinerary, Part 2: North Island Highlights continued

Welcome to part 2 of your ULTIMATE one week New Zealand trip. One week is barely enough to scratch the surface of what New Zealand has to offer, but if this is your one and only dream trip and you want to hit as many of the major highlights as you can, then this is the itinerary for you! That said, this itinerary is not for travel amateurs, or those who wish for a leisurely tour through the country. What you will find here is an action-packed tour that will keep you moving almost every day, with full day trips on those rare occasions when you actually stay in one place for two nights. But if you’re up for the challenge, follow this guide and you will get to experience some of the most amazing sites in all of New Zealand (and you can sleep when you get back home, right?). Even in just one week there is so much to see and do in New Zealand that it wouldn’t all fit in one post, so I’ve split it into three parts. This post is a continuation of the first post focusing on the highlights of the North Island. Stay tuned for part 3 which will focus on the highlights of the South Island.

Itinerary Overview

Day 1: Auckland
Day 2: Waitomo Caves & Marokopa Falls
Day 3: Hobbiton & Lake Taupo
Day 4: Rotorua
Day 5: Travel to South Island
Day 6: Milford Sound
Day 7: Dunedin & the Otago Peninsula
Day 8: Final exploration and departure

This post will focus on days 3 and 4. On day 2 you left the Waitomo area and arrived in Matamata. The small town of Matamata is extremely quiant and full of great restaurants so I highly recommend you spend a couple hours taking it in the first night you arrive. Now you are ready for the second leg of your trip, so let’s dive right in!

Day 3: Tour Hobbiton and Explore the Lake Taupo Area

Yet another expensive but worth-it stop on your whirlwind New Zealand tour is Hobbiton. I know what you’re thinking: kitschy, right? Why visit a movie set for a fake world that doesn’t even exist? I am telling you, this tour is worth it. Now, I am a Lord of the Rings Fan, to be sure (not a super-fan; I’ve never dressed up like the characters and I can’t speak Elvish, but I may know large parts of the movies by heart). My husband, on the other hand, is a Lord of the Rings hater (despite having never actually read the books or seen the movies). Nevertheless, I dragged him with me to Hobbiton, and much to my surprise and delight, he actually enjoyed it almost as much as I did! Peter Jackson and the Lord of the Rings crew created an entire world right here in the New Zealand landscape. And for those of you who do like the movies, you will feel the Shire come to life. You will walk down the same path Gandalf and Frodo rode into town, stand outside Bag End, dance on the lawn where Bilbo’s birthday party was held, and you can even enjoy a cool ale in the Green Dragon.

The magical Shire.
The path where Gandalf and Frodo ride into town at the beginning of Fellowship.
Bag End.
A long expected party!
Outside the Green Dragon.
Inside the Green Dragon.
Grab an ale at the Green Dragon.

Once you finish your tour, drive about 1.5 hours to the Lake Taupo region. Specifically, I recommend heading to two spots: Huka Falls and Craters of the Moon Geothermal Walk. The areas are located right next to each other allowing you to maximize your time, and both locations are must-see in my book. Huka Falls is an impressive and thundering waterfall. Entry is free and there is parking right next to the falls. There are multiple hiking trails leading off the falls, but if you’re pressed for time I recommend skipping these and heading down the road to Craters of the Moon Geothermal Walk.

Huka Falls: the thunderous water rushes to the falls.
Huka Falls: 220,000 litres of water flow over the falls per second – enough to fill one Olympic sized swimming pool in 11 seconds!

I remember when planning my trip, I saw some posts on the Craters of the Moon Geothermal Walk, and it didn’t seem too impressive (at least the people whose posts I was reading weren’t too impressed). Plus, I had just been to Iceland and seen a lot of geothermal activity there, and I knew I would be visiting the much-lauded Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland the next day, so I wasn’t sure if I would include Craters of the Moon in our itinerary. Luckily, Craters of the Moon is right next to Huka Falls, and we had some time so we decided to stop, and I am so glad we did!

Craters of the Moon Geothermal Walk is one of the most impressive geothermal sites I have visited, and one of my favorite memories from New Zealand. First, it is completely different from anything you will see in Iceland due to the vegetation. The steam rising from the vents all over the area makes the walk truly otherworldly, and the vegetation adds a new dimension to the eeriness (it reminded me of Jurassic Park; I’m not sure why). Just take a look at the photos below to see what I mean.

A truly otherworldly environment.
Steam rising from the ground covered with striking vegetation.
Pits of mud boil as steam rises and covers the ground.
Paths through the mist.

Once you emerge from this wonderland, drive 1 hour into Rotorua itself, stopping for an evening of relaxation at the Polynesian Spa. The Polynesian Spa is a natural geothermal spa situated on the banks of Lake Rotorua and offering various baths and spa treatments. I’ve been exploring natural, geothermal spas around the world for a few years now, and this one is equally as impressive as the rest. Not only are the heated waters naturally occurring, but several pools sit right on the edge of Lake Rotorua, so you can take in lovely views of the lake while you relax in the warm waters. In addition, if you choose to partake in a spa treatment, several of the packages include a private spa session, which consists of a private, enclosed spa with an open-air roof that you and your partner can enjoy. At night, you can relax in your own private pool while gazing up at the stars overhead. A truly unique experience.

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A grotto at the Polynesian Spa.
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View of Lake Rotorua from the outdoor pools at the Polynesian Spa.

Day 4: Explore Rotorua

In the morning, head to Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland for another amazing geothermal experience. As with yesterday’s Craters of the Moon walk, Wai-o-Tapu has wondrous surprises in store. Wai-o-Tapu is known for its brightly colored geothermal pools (not the type to bath in). The mineral rich area accounts for these beautiful creations. Here you will see turquoise, lime-green, burnt orange, and bright yellow pools of steaming and boiling water. Nearby you can also visit the Lady Knox Geysir, and a lovely short walk among wildly boiling mud pools.

Colors abound at Wai-o-Tapu.
The Champagne Pool gets its unique color scheme from small deposits of arsenic and antimony sulfides.
The Devil’s Bath gets its sickly greenish hue from sulfur deposits floating to the top of this lake.
Striking sulfur deposits.
Getting lost in the steam.
Lady Knox Geysir.

From here, if you’d like to take a dip in a truly nature-based hot spring (one out in nature without any nearby businesses charging admission), head to Kerosene Creek. The name may give you a bit of pause, but it is perfectly safe to bathe here (although as with most geothermal pools, don’t put your head underwater). There is parking nearby and you simply follow a forest path along the little creek until you reach the large pool beneath the waterfall.

The path along Kerosene Creek.
Under the waterfall at Kerosene Creek.

After some relaxation time, hop back in your car and head to Te Puia, one of the local Maori Villages, for your evening festivities. Here, you can tour the area, led by a tribe member, learning about Maori history and culture. You can catch a glimpse of the nocturnal Kiwi in the Kiwi House (if you have good night vision), and take in more geothermal activity at the Pohutu Geysir. You can also view the traditional Maori arts of carving and weaving. Finally, you can end your evening with the Te Po evening experience, which includes a traditional Maori dance and dinner. It is a fantastic cultural experience.

Traditional Maori gathering house at Te Puia.
Traditional Maori canoe.
Geothermal activity at Te Puia.
Maori masks line the night sky in this contemporary piece of artwork at the entrance to Te Puia.

This concludes your tour of the North Island. Tomorrow you set off on your South Island adventures!

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The ULTIMATE One Week New Zealand Itinerary, Part 2_ North Island Highlights continued



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