5-day Central North Island road trip with kids | Apollo NZ
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Northland & Bay of Islands

Located at the northern tip of New Zealand's North Island, Northland is a land of contrasts, with ancient kauri forests, pristine beaches, and charming coastal towns. This region is not only the birthplace of the nation, with significant historical sites like the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, but it also boasts some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the country, including the famous Bay of Islands.

Northland's climate, known for being subtropical, means warm, humid summers and mild winters, making it a perfect destination year-round. The Northland weather encourages outdoor activities and exploration, whether you're soaking up the sun on the golden sands of Paihia, sailing through the turquoise waters of the Bay of Islands, or driving up to the iconic lighthouse at Cape Reinga.

Travelling by campervan offers the freedom to explore Northland's diverse attractions at your own pace. From the historic charm of Kerikeri to the Tutukaka Coast, known for its world-class diving spots, there’s something for everyone. Take your pick of great Northland holiday parks and campgrounds along the way, ensuring comfort and convenience as you discover the stunning landscapes of this captivating region. Whether you’re interested in Māori culture, keen on adventure sports, or simply in need of a peaceful retreat amidst stunning natural beauty, Northland provides an unforgettable backdrop for a memorable campervan journey.

 

Why explore Northland & Bay of Islands by campervan

Exploring Northland by campervan is the ideal way to truly connect with the region's abundant natural beauty and rich history. With the freedom of the open road, you can navigate the diverse landscapes at your leisure. Start your day with a sunrise at Paihia, have lunch in an ancient kauri forest, and end with a sunset at Ninety Mile Beach. 

The ability to spontaneously choose your destinations each day, without the need to stick to a fixed itinerary or check-in times, means you can immerse yourself fully in whatever captures your interest. Travelling by campervan not only offers all the comforts of home, including your kitchen and bed but also supports a self-sufficient way to travel. This is a big plus in Northland, where you might want to spend several days exploring more remote areas. Plus, having your own facilities means you're never too far from a hot meal or a comfortable night's sleep, no matter where your adventures in Northland take you.

 

Things to do in Northland & Bay of Islands

You certainly won’t be short of things to do in Northland and the Bay of Islands. This popular region is bursting with activities that cater to every interest and age group. Discover Kerikeri’s historic sites, including the oldest stone building in New Zealand. Relax in the laidback setting of Russell, a charming town with a rich history. Adventure seekers can enjoy kayaking along the coast or exploring the underwater world at Poor Knights Islands. For a more leisurely pace, indulge in wine tasting at local vineyards or simply unwind on the pristine beaches of the Bay of Islands. Every corner of Northland promises memorable experiences for all.

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Popular Northland & Bay of Islands road trips & itineraries

Northland and the Bay of Islands, situated at the northern tip of New Zealand's North Island, are ideal for campervan explorations rich in history, natural beauty, and adventure. With numerous scenic routes that lead to secluded bays and vibrant coastal towns, the journey itself becomes as captivating as the destinations. Well-equipped campgrounds along the way make it easy to park up and soak in the scenery or enjoy starlit nights away from hustle and bustle.

5-day Central North Island road trip with kids
Alyssa Tresider
/ Categories: NZ Itineraries

5-day Central North Island road trip with kids.

Ready to pack up the kids and explore the best of New Zealand’s Central North Island by campervan? Great idea! From glow worms and volcanoes to Hobbits and hot pools, the North Island of New Zealand is packed full of great activities for a family campervan holiday

To help you plan a road trip that takes in the best highlights, we’ve put together this action-packed 5-day New Zealand road trip travel itinerary. You’ll kick off your campervan adventure in Auckland before heading south to Middle Earth where you can see some movie magic. Then it’s on to the scenic hot spots of Taupō and Tongariro before you go underground at the Waitomo Caves. Phew, that’s a whole lot of fun packed into five days! 

Ready to plan the ultimate New Zealand road trip? Let’s get started…

 

Travel: 5 days

Route: Auckland loop

Best time of the year: Anytime

Highlights: 

● Picnicking at the Hamilton Gardens

● Exploring magical Hobbiton Movie Set 

● Marvelling at the powerful Huka Falls 

● Catching and smoking trout in Turangi 

● Walking through the ethereal Waitomo Glowworm Caves 

● Discovering tropical butterflies and dinosaurs at Butterfly Creek

 

Day 1: Auckland to Matamata

Distance: 158 km

Travel time: 2 hours

Your adventure begins at Apollo’s Auckland branch where you'll pick up your pre-booked campervan, all set for five days of exploration across the Central North Island. As you journey south from Auckland, your first taste of the North Island’s charm comes with a stop at the enchanting Hamilton Gardens. Here, you can stroll through beautifully themed gardens from around the globe – ideal for a leisurely lunch break amidst lush landscapes.

Continue your NZ road trip to Matamata where you can immerse yourself in the magic of Middle Earth with a tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set. This iconic location offers a behind-the-scenes look at where the famous The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies were filmed. Walking through the Shire is a surreal experience, with its picturesque landscapes and detailed hobbit holes.

After a day of adventure, park up for the night at Opal Hot Springs and Holiday Park

TOP TIP: Check out our guide on how to entertain kids in a camper

 

Day 2: Matamata to Taupō

Distance: 126 km

Travel time: 1 hour, 50 mins

Today you’ll be heading to the heart of the North Island, Taupō. There’s loads to see and do along the way, so plan an early start. 

First up, make a splash at Huka Falls. Here, you can watch the Waikato River force its way through a tight rock corridor, creating a thunderous and spectacular waterfall. It’s a great spot for some photos or just to feel the mist on your face. Just around the corner, drop by the Huka Honey Hive, where you can taste some of New Zealand’s sweetest honey and see how it’s made. If you’re up for a bit more fun, swing by The Huka Prawn Park next. It’s a quirky spot where you can try your hand at prawn fishing. Kids love it, and so do the grown-ups.

Once in Taupō, chill out with a cruise on the lake. It’s a peaceful way to take in the views and soak up the holiday vibe. Afterwards, head over to DeBretts Hot Pools for a soak. These thermal pools are just the ticket for relaxing those muscles and having a good soak as a family.

Finish off your day by strolling through Taupō’s local shops. It’s a great chance to pick up some unique keepsakes. Whether it's artsy crafts or a piece of New Zealand’s greenstone jewellery, there’s plenty to catch your eye.

For your stay, the Taupo TOP 10 Holiday Park is a great spot to park up, chill out, and plan your next day’s adventures.

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Day 3: Taupō to Tongariro National Park

Distance: 97 km

Travel time: 1 hour, 20 mins

Today’s leg of your road trip from Taupō to Tongariro National Park weaves through rugged landscapes that shift dramatically as you approach one of New Zealand’s most famous national parks.

Plan a stop about halfway in Turangi, a tiny township known as the trout fishing capital of New Zealand. It’s the perfect place to take a break and stretch your legs. If you’ve got a bit of extra time, pop into the Tongariro National Trout Centre. Here, the kids can actually catch their own trout, which can be smoked right there for a fresh, delicious lunch. It’s both fun and tasty – a real adventure for the little ones.

Once you hit Tongariro National Park, get ready to dive into nature. A great family-friendly walk is the Taranaki Falls Track, an easy 6 km loop that offers stunning views and the chance to see the impressive waterfall that cascades over an ancient lava flow. It’s just the right mix of adventure and manageable walking for all ages.

If you’re visiting in winter, a must-do is a day in the snow at the Whakapapa Ski Area. Whether it’s your first time seeing snow or you’re seasoned snow bunnies, there’s plenty of fun to be had. From snowball fights to sledding, it’s a winter wonderland that provides a cool contrast to the more temperate parts of your trip.

Tonight, plan a cosy stay at the Tongariro Holiday Park where you can relax surrounded by views of the picturesque mountains.  

 

Day 4: Tongariro National Park to Waitomo Caves

Distance: 159 km

Travel time: 2 hours

Today, you’ll be going from the heights of Tongariro National Park to the depths of the Waitomo Caves – a magical spot and a must-do on any North Island road trip itinerary.  

A great place to stop along the way is Te Kuiti, known as the Shearing Capital of the World. This small town also honours New Zealand rugby legend Sir Colin Meads with a life-size bronze statue, celebrating his contributions to the sport and his roots in the local area. Take a moment to appreciate the statue and the small park around it, an ideal spot to enjoy a leisurely lunch and perhaps explore some local shops for unique souvenirs.

As you arrive in Waitomo, get ready for an unforgettable underground adventure at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Here, a guided tour will lead you through stunning limestone formations and into the Glowworm Grotto, where the ceiling is dotted with the luminescent glow of thousands of glowworms. This natural light display is truly a sight to behold, creating a star-like illusion that lights up the caves. Beyond the glowworms, Waitomo offers some awesome adventurous activities like black water rafting, cave abseiling (rappelling), and exploring other limestone caves with their impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations.

Put your feet up tonight at the welcoming Waitomo TOP 10 Holiday Park

READ MORE: 15 must-dos in New Zealand’s North Island.

 

Day 5: Waitomo Caves to Auckland

Distance: 190 km

Travel time: 2 hours, 30 mins 

Today's the day you wrap up your epic North Island road trip, driving from Waitomo back to Auckland. The trip north is an easy drive with some great places to stop and stretch your legs one last time.

As you head north, swing by Otorohanga for a peek at some classic Kiwi culture with its quirky Kiwiana displays – everything from giant gumboots to pavlovas. Don’t skip the Otorohanga Kiwi House while you’re there; it's a cool spot to check out New Zealand's iconic kiwi birds and other local wildlife.

Arriving in Auckland, if you’re looking for a peaceful way to wrap up your trip, head to the Auckland Botanic Gardens. The gardens offer a beautiful, tranquil environment for a leisurely walk or a relaxing picnic. 

Alternatively, for a bit more excitement, visit Rainbows End, New Zealand’s premier theme park, where thrilling rides and attractions await, offering fun for the whole family.

Before you drop off your camper, make one final fun stop at Butterfly Creek, which is conveniently located near Apollo’s Auckland branch. It’s packed with attractions for everyone – from tropical butterflies to farm animals. 

Finally, swing by Apollo’s Auckland branch to drop off your camper. You’re done! You’ve just finished an awesome road trip packed with great memories, fun adventures, and loads of pics to prove it. Time to start planning the next great roadie? Check out more of our great New Zealand travel itineraries for inspiration. 

READ MORE: 15 family friendly things to do in Auckland.

 

Is the North Island of New Zealand calling you?

From volcanoes to caves, honey-tasting to trout fishing, this amazing 5-day New Zealand North Island road trip has it all. Ready to get started? Take the first step and book your Apollo campervan online today. 
Follow our easy itinerary or check out our travel blogs for more great ideas on what to see and do in New Zealand.

 

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Apollo Campervan branches

Auckland

Departing from Apollo Auckland, you’re perfectly positioned for a half-day drive to Northland & the Bay of Islands. This route ensures a seamless blend of scenic beauty and local culture, culminating in the stunning landscapes of Northland.

Christchurch

The drive from Apollo Christchurch to Northland & the Bay of Islands sets you up for a scenic multi-day journey across the South Island, including the picturesque ferry crossing at the Cook Strait, and into the North Island. 

Queenstown

Keen to make the most of your road trip and explore as much of New Zealand as possible? Book your camper with our Queenstown branch and take your time heading northward over an epic 10-14 days taking in some of the great southern highlights along the way. 

Auckland City Skyline

Auckland

New Zealand’s multi-cultural hub of food, music, arts and culture.

 

Christchurch City, New Zealand

Christchurch

 One of the world’s most unique destinations.

 

Queenstown

Breathtaking scenery and adrenaline-pumping adventure activities.

 

Helpful tips for visiting Northland & the Bay of Islands

 

Climate and seasons in Northland & the Bay of Islands

Northland and the Bay of Islands are renowned for their mild, subtropical climate, making them inviting destinations throughout the year. The warm Northland weather is perfect for enjoying the region's stunning coastal areas and rich cultural heritage.

  • Summer (December to February) in Northland are warm and humid, with temperatures usually ranging from 22°C to 26°C. This season is ideal for exploring the beautiful beaches, engaging in water sports, or simply enjoying the vibrant outdoor lifestyle with alfresco dining along the waterfront. Summer is also a popular time for tourists, so expect a lively atmosphere, especially in beach towns.

  • Autumn (March to May) sees slightly cooler temperatures and less humidity, making it a perfect time for hiking and outdoor activities without the intense heat of summer. The scenery remains lush, and the less crowded attractions allow for a more relaxed exploration of the region.

  • Winter (June to August) brings cooler weather, with daytime temperatures typically between 15°C and 18°C. The cooler days are ideal for visiting historical sites and museums or enjoying some of Northland’s renowned cultural festivals. Winter in Northland is generally mild, allowing for year-round outdoor activities.

  • Spring (September to November) revitalises the region with early blooms and warmer weather, gradually heating up towards summer. This is an excellent time to witness the vibrant flora and fauna as the landscapes burst into life, making it ideal for photography and nature walks.

 

 

 

What to pack?

Preparing for your campervan road trip in Northland and the Bay of Islands means packing smartly to fully enjoy the region's mild, subtropical climate and rich outdoor and cultural offerings. From sunbathing on pristine beaches to exploring historic sites and sailing in the bay, here’s what to bring:

  • Outdoor gear: The diverse environments, from the sandy beaches of the Bay of Islands to the forested walks of Cape Reinga, call for versatile outdoor apparel. Opt for lightweight, breathable clothing that will keep you comfortable during the warm days, and don’t forget a few layers for cooler evenings — perfect for cosy nights under the stars. Durable walking shoes are essential, whether you're planning to trek through the forests or stroll around the historic towns.

  • Campervan add-ons: Enhancing your campervan setup can significantly improve your travel experience. Consider packing a portable barbecue for enjoyable seaside grills. You may also like to hire extra camping chairs and a table when you book your Apollo campervan to create a comfortable outdoor living space wherever you park. These additions are perfect for relaxing after a day of adventure or for enjoying a meal with a view.

  • Sun protection: The Northland and Bay of Islands region enjoy plenty of sunshine, making thorough sun protection crucial. Include a high-SPF sunscreen, UV-protection sunglasses, and a broad-brimmed hat in your packing list. This will ensure you can safely indulge in the outdoor activities that the region is famous for, from kayaking across clear waters to lounging on the beach.

For more helpful ideas, check out our guide to what to pack for your campervan road trip.

 

 

Attractions and day trips in Northland

 

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are a must-visit for anyone interested in New Zealand's history. As the site of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, it offers a deep dive into the nation's past through engaging exhibits, guided tours, and cultural performances. The beautifully maintained grounds overlooking the Bay of Islands also provide a peaceful setting to reflect on New Zealand's foundational document.

Paihia

Paihia is the vibrant heart of the Bay of Islands, known for its lively waterfront filled with cafes, shops, and galleries. It's the perfect base for exploring the surrounding islands by ferry or enjoying water sports like kayaking and parasailing. The town's relaxed atmosphere and scenic beauty make it a favourite spot for both locals and tourists.

Russell

Once known as a rowdy 19th-century whaling port, Russell has transformed into a charming seaside town. It's rich with historic buildings like New Zealand’s oldest church, and its quaint streets, waterfront promenades, and excellent restaurants offer a picturesque step back in time.

Cape Reinga

At the northern tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga offers breathtaking views where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. This spiritually significant site for Māori is accessible via a scenic drive, with opportunities to see the iconic lighthouse and the famous pohutukawa tree that marks the 'leaping-off' point of spirits into the afterlife.

Ninety Mile Beach

Despite its name, Ninety Mile Beach is actually about 55 miles long and serves as one of the country’s most stunning natural highways. It’s perfect for a day of adventure, offering activities like sandboarding down massive dunes or just enjoying a leisurely drive along its vast, sandy stretch.

Kerikeri

Kerikeri is known for its fertile soils and beautiful orchards, but it's also rich in history. Highlights include the Stone Store and Kemp House, the oldest stone and wood buildings in New Zealand. The town also hosts vibrant markets and has a thriving arts scene, making it a delightful destination for culture and cuisine.

Mangonui

Mangonui is primarily known for its historic waterfront lined with heritage buildings that now house charming cafes and shops. This small fishing village is famous for its fish and chips, offering fresh seafood with a view. It’s an ideal spot for a relaxed day soaking up local flavours and sea breezes.

Whangarei

Whangarei, the northernmost city in New Zealand, offers a mix of cultural and natural attractions, including the acclaimed Whangarei Falls and the Town Basin marina filled with galleries and cafes. It's a great starting point for trips to the nearby beaches and lush native forests.

Tutukaka

Known as the gateway to the Poor Knights Islands, Tutukaka offers some of New Zealand’s best diving and snorkelling experiences. The marine reserve's clear waters are teeming with colourful sea life and are perfect for underwater adventures. Above water, Tutukaka’s coast is dotted with secluded bays and pristine beaches to explore.

 

Where to stay in Northland & The Bay of Islands with a campervan

When it comes to finding the perfect spot to park and rest in Northland & the Bay of Islands, there's no shortage of picturesque, comfy campgrounds. Here are a few worth checking out:

Northland

Bay of Islands

 

 

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