Ranked as the 5th best country to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet and 8th happiest country to live in by United Nations, New Zealand is always be the destination everyone writes at the top of their bucket-list. Including you.
Admit that you have fantasized running in the Middle-Earthesque scenery, acting cool while bungee jumping, taking thousands of Instagramable pictures that make your friends back home commenting “Tak ajakkkkkkkk*” or watching All Blacks perform.
*Tak ajakkkkk is a term used when your friends are upset that you didn’t invite them to go for a trip or to a hipster cafe, although in most cases you did ask openly in your WhatApp chat group.
Cool and yeah, everyone can do THAT. However, have you ever thought about having a New Zealand trip centered upon contemplation, adventures, halal food and places that restore your mindfulness before going back to the hustle and bustle of your daily life? This self-drive tour around North Island, New Zealand will give you ample of opportunity to enrich your soul and to get your groove back.
- North Island New Zealand self-drive itinerary
- 150 km of driving per day (around 2-3 hours)
- Chillaxing at Bay of Islands and 90 Miles Beach
- Halal food in Auckland and Wellington
- Halal food with amazing sceneries such as Mount Taranaki
- Restoring your balance with mindful retreat at a masjid, hikes and visits to natural attractions
- Drive, local tour and accommodation tips
- Helpful resources to enable you to have soulful New Zealand self-drive tours
Before you board the plane
#Taking food to New Zealand
The Immigration and Border Control of New Zealand is really strict so don’t bother taking in food like “sambal goreng” that will risk you being questioned. Trust me, it was not pleasant spending your first hours in the most beautiful country in the world being questioned where this honey comes from!
#What kind of a car?
I recommend a small 4WD if you are solo or in a small group a. As a lot of beautiful places in New Zealand are accessible only with gravel roads.
It is advisable to compare rental packages online and try to book your car before visiting New Zealand. You can also try renting a car from locals’ car from via YourDrive, you’ll often find better deals comparing with the standard rental companies for a lower price!
Day 1 – Get your essentials in Auckland
Travel to the Auckland and stock up on halal food or items that you think are essential for the long drive. Then you may check-in to your accommodation. There are plenty Muslim-friendly hotels, so you are covered here.
Pamper yourself at Hotel Grand Chancellor or stay at Kiwi International Hotel. Both are close to Sky Tower and rated Salam Standard Silver, offering a praying mat and a list of nearby halal restaurants.
While you’re in town, you must visit the main Auckland attractions:
- Sky Tower + Sky Walk
- Harbour bridge
- Auckland Domain – the oldest park with volcano remains and outdoor events including “Music in Parks”
- Whale spotting of more than 20 species of whales in the Hauraki Gulf
Let’s eat halal first.
Our dinner favourite is halal roast New Zealand lamb (halal) at Pedro’s House of Lamb.
You can also visit a plethora of Turkish, Indian, Middle Eastern, Chinese and fast food halal restaurants in Auckland. If you already miss home, visit Mamak, Mutiara or PappaRich Malaysian restaurants.
#Where to buy halal food in Auckland?
Head to Sandringham Road area or in one of the Asian supermarkets in Chinatown for some groceries for the trip. For the complete listing of halal groceries in New Zealand, you can check out The Federation of Islamic Associations in New Zealand website.
Day 2 – Iktikaf in Masjid and get to know your Bros/Sis
Now we commence feeding food to our soul. There are more than 20 masjids in Greater Auckland area. Perhaps you can attend the congregational prayers or better Friday prayers where you can mingle with brothers and sisters who come from many different places in the world. Or have an iktikaf (the act of staying at a Masjid for hours and do the act of worship, disassociating oneself from the world) No selfie, no phones; just you finding peace in the remembrance of God.
One of the first mosques in Auckland is Ponsoby Al-Masjid Al-Jamie. It was built back in 1979 so visiting this house of worship might give you the sense of the history of Islam and Muslims in New Zealand.
Programs: All prayers including formal Jumuah prayers, Lecture series, Interfaith Events
You can also visit a few centers that teach Islam like Al-Ghazzali Center or Dannemora Al Falaah Center to learn about Muslim communities in North Island.
Before you leave Auckland
#Driving in New Zealand
Make sure you check out the traffic updates to avoid untoward circumstances that will affect your trip. The best reference for driving in New Zealand is available at the New Zealand Transport Agency website. We also find that the apps Campermate is super useful even though you are not using campervan.
Whether you are on camper van or a 4WD, please abide to the government rule regarding camping or pitching your tent besides road. In most cases, it is a No. As recommended, you can use CamperMate to check available camping grounds, their facilities and availability.
Day 3 – Start Your Engine, We are Heading North
Start your drive early morning towards Bay of Islands, which hosts some of the best attractions in the region.
Most of them are at Paihia town, from which you can embark on Snapper Fishing Tour or find your inner pirate by joining a Tall-Ship Sailing Trip for a day in the turquoise-colored sea.
Or set off to see that cool Hole In The Rock while watching out for dolphins. According to Maori culture, drops of water coming from the roof of the Hole in The Rock signify good omen.
Looks amazing, right? There are many types of cruises you can take to get to Hole in The Rock, some include island hopping of 144 islands (!) in the area or seafood lunch, choose according to your own pace.
Map: Paihia Town: https://goo.gl/maps/cfX9MJ8Sj3n
How to Get There: From Auckland, take State Highway 1 towards Whangarei and drive for about 3 hours to reach Paihia
Best Time To Visit: February – April (summer months)
Recommended Seafood Dinner Place: Darryl’s Dinner Cruise up Waitangi River
For Bays of Islands, it would be best if you stay at camping site near to town so we suggest for you to camp at either Bay of Islands Campervan Park or Waitangi Holiday Park.
Day 4 – Te Paki Sand Dunes
After having the sea-rush, or sea-sickness (which I pray you won’t get it) day, you may want to venture to something cooler and explore diverse New Zealand nature.
Forget about going to Dubai for awhile. Rent a sand board and embrace your inner child at Te Paki Sand Dunes. It is one of the New Zealand North Island must see destinations, and is near the 90 Miles Beach, about 3 hours drive from Paihia.
Sand surfing cost: Entrance is free. Rental is $10 for toboggan and $15 for sandboard from Ahikaa Adventures
Safety Tips: As the slope can reach as high as 150m, try the “bunny slope” first. Kids can do this but do it at the hill with a less steep incline
Recommended place for a bite: If you want a fast takeaway, stop by Waitiki Tourist Complex on the way to Te Paki Sand Dunes.
Then watch a spectacular sunset followed by the best sleep you’ll ever have next to the Tasman Sea at one of several sites in Cape Reinga or Matai Bay.
Day 5 – Leisure Drive
Take it easy today. Either you plan to hike, write your journal or drive along 90 Miles Beach to the southern tip, it will be a great day nonetheless. A warning though, since you are doing the driving, check your car hire agreement if they allow you to drive on this sandy highway. You might risk your vehicle to get stuck in sand!
Ninety Miles Beach, stretching for 88 kilometers long, is also famous for its Shipwreck Bay, where you can find the remains of shipwrecks especially when it is low tide.
Either by driving leisurely or lounging by the sea, you will be soothed by the sight of Tasman Sea and the sounds of crashing waves.
You can take a peaceful hike at the first section of the famous Te Araroa Trail, from Cape Reinga to Twilight Beach campsite. It takes about 5-6 hours, depending on your fitness level. But the view of the beach stretch from top of a hill is totally worth it!
Then you can take another peaceful night of sleep at Ahipara, which is a popular camping spot at the South end of 90 Miles Beach.
Day 6 – There and Back Again
We head to Coromandel Peninsula through Auckland, and you’ll be tempted to stop someplace familiar, right? OK. We’ll give it to you. There is a Halal Nando’s is located at Dominion Road, Mt Eden!
Business Hours: 11am – 10pm
After having your happy meal, take State Highway 1 southwards and turn towards Coromandel Town in the Coromandel Peninsula.
Please, try to reach there before dusk because the winding road, lack of cars, and pitch dark road will make the travel slightly scary. I drove alone along Thames Coastal Road at night, not knowing a slight mishandling on steering will cause my car to plunge directly into the sea below. There is no shoulder for most part of the coastal road.
For the night: Make sure you camp near the coast, such as Waikawau Bay to catch an amazing, tear-inducing, humbling sunrise.
Day 7 – Coromandel
With a good night sleep, you’ll be ready for another treat. Whether you are at Waikawau, Port Charles or Kennedy Bay, you can enjoy serenity and peaceful moment to yourself.
As there are many, many activities to choose from:
- Dig up your own personal spa at Coromandel Hot Water Beach
- Sea-kayak at Cathedral Cove
- Trek or walk along well-marked trails will do wonders to you.
Our favorite is the Pinnacle Walk, an intermediate grade and 1-day tramping to reach the Pinnacle where you can have 360 degree view of Coromandel Peninsular.
Whatever you plan to do, I won’t be responsible for any ad-hoc decision you may take to extend your stay in this area.
Day 8 to Day 11 – Head Down to Touristy Attractions
From Coromandel, you can either drive to Tauranga or Rotorua and make your base there for one or two nights. Either way, you will have a scenic drive through rolling hills and views of sheeps. Quite a departure from concrete jungle, I must say. Here are a number of recommendations for you do soul-searching or amping up your adrenaline (a little, just a little..).
See the living and breathing masterpieces at Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley
The valley hosts about 500 hot springs and 65 geyser vents to aww you! It’s also a living Maori village where you can learn more about their culture and attend a traditional feast with performances. It is definitely one of the must-sees!
Business hours: 8:30am-5pm, closed on Christmas Day
Duration: 3 hours including the experience of Maori culture
Chillax around Lake Taupo – the outdoor activities center of the North Island
For example, you can kayak your way to see the Maori Rock Carvings at Mine Bay. This carving of Ngatoroirangi, a Chief Priest, is 10 metres high and took four summers to complete. For a less strenuous activity, you can visit Huka Falls for free and enjoy the sight of nature’s biggest washing machine.
Map: Meet your local guide at Acacia Bay https://goo.gl/maps/4W7wqmjeWTM2
Operations: Kayak tours run daily, depending on the weather
Duration: 1-2 hours
Attempt Tongariro Alpine Crossing and reward yourself with the emerald blue lake at the summit
The crossing is situated in Tongariro National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and also the oldest National Park in New Zealand. Many tourists put this crossing, dubbed as one of the best one-day hikes in the world, in their must-do New Zealand list. You should do it too!
Booking information: Book your hiking trips online or at your accommodation around Whakapapa or Turangi
Open: Daily, depending on the weather
Duration of hike: 7-8 hours
Distance covered: 19.4 km one way
Contact Information: +64 7 892 3729 (Please call to check the weather ahead of time!)
P/S: Better take a shuttle from your accommodation because there is 4-hour parking restriction at the Mangatepopo End Road. Also since it is a crossing, you will end up at the other end of the trek.
Alternatively, you can arrange a tour to Lord of The Rings filming locations with a local guide.
If it rains, attend a secret musical gig at Wellington
Far from a typical concert, being in a Sofar Sounds intimate gig in Wellington is an experience exclusive to a few. You need to check out Sofar Sounds website to book a place in an exclusive performance by up-and-coming local musicians.
After the gig, we recommend you to have a munch at Burger Fuel, where you can request halal menu or vegetarian options.
Cool yourself at many, many, many waterfalls around Hawke’s Bay Area
Rere Falls is one of the waterfall wonders of North Island. The best thing is that it is very accessible by car, so you can drive straight to the front of the waterfall.
How to Get there: Drive 3 hours from Napier to Gisborne, then take State Highway 35 westbound and turn right onto Wharekopae Rd
Have breakfast with a picturesque view at Edgemont
Volcanoview Grand Cafe & Restaurant is famous for its pancakes, plus a spectacular view of Mount Taranaki. Talk about win-win!
Business Hours: 10am onwards, except Monday, Tuesday and public holiday
Pay homage to amazing glowing creatures of Waitomo Caves
This is the world-renowned natural attraction that you can’t simply miss. As it is a super famous attraction, book your tour ahead. You can choose either a 3 hour boat-ride or a 3 hour cave tubing (imagine you floating on big, inflated donut staring at the beautiful glowworms).
Business hours: 9am-5pm
Day 12 – Completing your North Island New Zealand Self-Drive Trip
Saying goodbye to the land of Lord of The Rings is hard, I know. Hopefully your soul and spirit will be recharged after a soulful drive across the North Island.
As Paulo Coelho says: “Success is being able to go to bed each night with your soul at peace.” May you find and promote peace wherever you go, and New Zealand is the best place to start!