Travel SOS: spending 10 days on New Zealand’s North Island

Lee Mylne helps John with his New Zealand North Island itinerary.

Travel SOS: spending 10 days on New Zealand’s North Island

Lee Mylne has managed to combine her two passions – travelling and writing – into a long and successful career as a travel journalist. Her work is published in newspapers, magazines, websites and travel apps in Australia and around the world.

John has 10 days to spend on New Zealand’s North Island and wants to know how he can spend his time there. In Travel SOS, NZ native, Lee Mylne has plenty of suggestions.

Q. John
My wife and I booked some cheap airfares into Auckland and have 10 days to spend in total, before flying back. I would like to travel around a bit but given that we have to fly back from Auckland, how far should we venture? Any suggestions?

A. John, 10 days will give you lots of scope to see Auckland properly and also venture further afield. If you are self-driving, I’d suggest sticking to the North Island, where you will have no trouble filling your time.

First of all, you’ll want to see the sights of New Zealand’s largest city but after that, you’ve got lots of choice, all within a few hours’ drive of Auckland. I’m biased, because it’s where I grew up, but I always think it’s a shame when visitors inevitably head south from Auckland and miss a stunning part of the North Island. Travelling north is very rewarding, with Northland giving you wonderful landscapes and beaches and fascinating history. The Twin Coast Discovery driving route is a loop that will take you north to the harbour city of Whangarei (two hours from Auckland) and further to the beautiful Bay of Islands, home to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. This region was the first settled in New Zealand and is rich in Maori and European history. Further north, you can stand at the northern-most tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga. On the west coast, you’ll drive through magnificent kauri forests – stop and see the giant Tane Mahuta, the biggest kauri tree in the world.

kauri forest in new zealand

The heartland of New Zealand’s Maori culture is Rotorua, about three-hours’ drive south-east of Auckland. Rotorua is also a thermal region, known for its spouting geysers, bubbling mud pools and natural hot springs. You could easily spend several days here. Another hour’s drive and you’ll be on the shores of Lake Taupo (you’ll love it if you enjoy fishing).

If you want to stay closer to Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula is east of Auckland. The main town is Thames, about 90 minutes’ drive from Auckland, but venture further onto the peninsula to the village of Coromandel, Whitianga and Hot Water Beach (just what it sounds like). Don’t miss the sandstone archway of Cathedral Cove.

cathedral cove new zealand

If you’ve got a hankering to see New Zealand’s capital, 10 days will give you time to get to Wellington and back. You could take it slowly and stop at various places along the way, but without stopping (not recommended!) it’s about an eight-hour drive from Auckland. One of the highlights along the way is the aptly named stretch of highway called the Desert Road, which will give you fabulous views of three mountains – Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. Plan to spend at least three days in Wellington to see everything, and don’t miss the amazing Te Papa Tongarewa/Museum of New Zealand (I could spend a whole day there!).

My best advice for planning a driving holiday in New Zealand, always, is to get a map or online distance calculator that gives you driving times rather than distances. New Zealand roads are not the wide straight highways we are used to in Australia.

Do you have a travel question for Lee? If so, email your Travel SOS to 



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