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New Zealand North Island Itinerary

3 Week New Zealand North Island Itinerary

This New Zealand North Island itinerary will take you to the Island’s best hiking areas and the country’s finest wine regions. This isn’t your average tourist route with recommended tourist activities. This is a travel plan for independent explorers who relish the outdoors, wildlife, and a good craft beer, or glass of wine. We’re all about balancing the two in this epic New Zealand North Island Itinerary.

We traveled through NZ with an NSC (non-self-contained) campervan from mid-January to mid-April (Summer, Autumn). This New Zealand North Island itinerary is closely based on what we did, though we lingered in some places longer due to bad weather. For each day, we’ve outlined our favorite things to do and see, including hikes, wineries and places to eat. We’ve also included where to stay, whether you’re camping, backpacking, or staying in hotels. Also use our New Zealand Travel GuideNew Zealand Hiking Guide, and our South Island Itinerary to help plan your trip.

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New Zealand North Island Itinerary - 3 Week Road Trip

New Zealand North Island itinerary Overview

  • Day 1: Auckland & Around
  • Days 2-3: Coromandel Peninsula
  • Day 4: Raglan
  • Days 5-7: Taranaki & New Plymouth
  • Days 8-10: Tongariro National Park
  • Days 11-13: Taupo & Around
  • Days 14-16: Hawke’s Bay & Around
  • Days 17-18: Martinborough Wine Region
  • Day 19: Cape Palliser & Aorangi Forest Park
  • Days 20-21: Wellington
Planning a trip to New Zealand? Read these helpful guides next:
Get the Guide
  • Lonely Planet New Zealand – an indispensable guide for traveling in NZ. We consulted our LP on our whole trip.
  • We also bought the Lonely Planet’s New Zealand’s Best Trips book. This is a road trip guide that gives you a good visual understanding of how regions are connected and how to plan your trip. Buying both was a bit redundant, but it did simplify the planning process.

This post links to products and services we love, which we may make a small commission from, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting our blog!! – Sabrina and Kati

Three Week New Zealand North Island Itinerary | Moon & Honey Travel

Day 1: Auckland & Around

Your New Zealand North Island itinerary begins in Auckland. If you’re a beer lover, make sure to delve into Auckland’s craft beer scene.

Once you’ve secured your campervan or rental car, head out to the black sand beaches on the east coast. Piha and Te Henga (Bethells Beach) are standout beaches. Waitakere Ranges is a tramping destination, though some of the tracks may be closed to help prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease. As you’re heading out of town, swing by Kumeu River Wines and Coopers Creek Vineyard.

Stay near Piha

Camping | Whatipu Campground – Remote camping location for NSC and SC Vehicles close to Whatipu Beach. It’s a drive to get to the campsite, but it’s scenic and peaceful. 

BudgetPiha Beachstay – Located just a short walk away from Piha beach, this accommodation features private bedrooms and dormitories. The house’s cozy atmosphere will make you feel like home.  

LuxuryRomantic Piha – This accommodation offers excellent views in a great location. The apartments feature everything you might need, including an espresso machine and cookies!

Look for accommodation in Piha.

 
Three Week New Zealand North Island Itinerary | Moon & Honey Travel

Days 2-3: Coromandel Peninsula

Coromandel Peninsula boasts beautiful beaches, a very Hot Water Beach, quaint towns and decent tramping. As you drive along the coast, you’ll easily slip into vacation mode. If you have extra time, you could allot 4 or 5 days to the peninsula and explore north of Colville.

Things to do in Coromandel Peninsula

  • Kauaeranga Kauri Trail to Pinnacles Hut in Coromandel Forest Park Day hike, or overnight hike (5-7 hours return). We stayed in the hut, which was large and well equipped with kitchen appliances and drinking water (collected from rainfall). We love staying in mountain huts, but we think this particular hike is better as a day hike.
  • Hot Water Beach A beach where you can dig up your own hot spring tub during low tide. The hot water rises to the surface through fractures from an underground hot water reservoir. Pretty cool, right? The heat is a result of volcanic activity that occurred 5 to 9 million years ago. The water is VERY HOT! You’ll need a shovel to dig the hole (which you can rent from the Hot Water Beach Store) so you don’t burn your fingers and a bucket so that you can cool off your hot spring with ocean water.
  • Bike the Karangahake Gorge – This curvaceous canyon formed by the Ohinemuri River is a tramping and biking area. Though you can walk along the river, you’ll have more fun on a bike. There are also safe spots to take a dip.
  • Owharoa Falls  Small, but beautiful waterfall. On a hot summer day, swimming at the base of the waterfall is so refreshing.
  • Flatwhite Waihi Beach – This café overlooking the beach is a fun place to grab a drink and something to eat. Locals were all about the iced coffees (ice cream coffee drinks). 

Night #1: Stay near Hahei

Camping Hot Water Beach Top 10 Holiday Park This holiday park is a 9-minute walk from Hot Water Beach. Beside a very nice and clean campground, they also offer private rooms, cabins, and bungalows.

Budget Tatahi Backpackers is a hostel with private and dormitory rooms. It is located close to all the attractions in this area and it offers a big kitchen and a nice sitting area. Complimentary parking available on site.

Luxury Dragonfly Farm – The Farmstay offers a 2-bedroom self contained house and a 2-bedroom apartment. Stay here if you travel with kids or if you love animals (like us). From the farm it is a 15 Minutes drive to Hot Water Beach.

Look for accommodation in Hahei.

Night #2 Stay near Waihi Beach

Camping Beachaven Top 10 Holiday Park 9 – Located just a short stroll from the beach, this holiday park offers apartments, dormitories, and cottages in addition to the campsites.

Budget | The Crescent BnB features clean and spacious rooms and a terrace with sea views. It is a 10 minute walk to Waihi Beach.

Midrange | Kotare Ridge is a Bed and Breakfast located just 2 minutes away from the beach. Delicious breakfast included in the room rate. 

Look for accommodation in Waihi Beach.

 
Raglan, New Zealand North Island | Moon & Honey Travel

Day 4: Raglan

Raglan is a cute surf town that invites you to chill and ride the waves. According to kiwis, this is one of the best locations in New Zealand to learn how to surf. It’s safe and there are schools ready to get you up on a board. Kati loved her surf lesson with Greenwave Raglan. We probably would have stayed another day if I (Sabrina) was more enthusiastic about surfing (sorry Kati). 

Stay in Raglan

Camping | Kev’s place Campground with drinking water and showers.

Budget | Entabeni is a Bed and breakfast located just a short walk (10 min.) from the town centre of Raglan. You will enjoy homemade muffins for breakfast.

Look for accommodation in Raglan.

 
Three Week New Zealand North Island Itinerary | Moon & Honey Travel

Days 5-7: Taranaki & New Plymouth

The Drive from Raglan to New Plymouth

The coastal drive to New Plymouth is beautiful. On one side, rolling green hills are dotted with dairy cows, goats, and sheep. On the other, the ocean stretches out infinitely. During low tide, you can access the White Cliffs Walkway. Our favorite roadside stop was Mike’s Brewery. Definitely drop in for a flight and a platter of cheese when you’re in Urenui.

Taranaki

Taranaki region takes its name from Mount Taranaki, the perfectly symmetrical cone volcano that (supposedly) dominates the skyline. We actually never saw the volcano, because of heavy fog and bad weather. So, if you arrive in Taranaki on a clear day, consider yourself lucky. You’ll find the most activity (restaurants, accommodations, etc…) in New Plymouth. We highly recommend Federal Store for breakfast and lunch and the South Indian Restaurant Kathakali for dinner.

Hike Egmont National Park

Egmont National Park encompasses Mount Taranaki (2518 meters) and the surrounding forest, rightly nicknamed the Goblin Forest. It’s a lush rainforest characterized by twisted kamahi and Hall’s totara trees festooned with moss. The forest floor is carpeted with ferns and moss, creating an entirely green environment. The effect of seeing sunlight filter through the mossy canopy is nothing short of mesmerizing. You feel like you’ve entered another realm. Egmont National Park was one of our favorite stops on our New Zeland North Island itinerary.

To experience the Goblin Forest, head to the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre. There’s an easy loop hike that takes you into the forest and to the Willies Pools and Dawson Falls. If you’re interested in experiencing the Pouakai Range (outstanding views of Mount Taranaki on a clear day), consider hiking the Mangorei Track. You’ll hike through the goblin forest for 2 hours before emerging into stunted tussock land.

Stay in New Plymouth, or Egmont National Park

Camping | Volcanoview is a popular tavern and campground offering paid spaces for SC and NSC vehicles as well as tents.

Midrange | Dawson Falls Mountain Lodge is situated at an elevation of 905 meters above sea level on the south-eastern slopes of Mount Taranaki within Egmont National Park. With its unbeatable location and volcano views, you’ll love your stay here. The hotel dates back to 1896 and features 12 guest rooms, all furnished in a warm, alpine style. Guests love the onsite restaurant (fully licensed). From the lodge, you can hike directly to Wilkies Pools, Dawson Falls, and Fanthams Peak.

Midrange | Ngati Ruanui Stratford Mountain House is a top-rated accommodation in Egmont National Park, surrounded by forest and native gardens. After exploring the Goblin Forest, guests can savor the sauna and steam room and dine at the on-site Mountain Café and Mountain Restaurant (open Wednesdays – Sundays).

Look for accommodation in Egmont National Park.

Look for accommodation in New Plymouth.

 
Three Week New Zealand North Island Itinerary | Moon & Honey Travel

Days 8-10: Tongariro National Park

Your New Zealand North Island itinerary continues to one of the most visually stunning regions in the world. Tongariro National Park will dazzle you with its barren topography, rugged volcanoes, and crater lakes. With treeless lunar landscapes rubbing up against tussock slopes and beech forest, Tongariro’s diverse landscapes are devastatingly beautiful. Lord of the Rings fans will no doubt be thrilled by the site of Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom).

Best Hikes in Tongariro National Park

  1. Tongariro Alpine Crossing (19.4 km)
    • Trailhead: While you can start, or end your hike at either end, it’s far more popular to start the hike at Mangatepopo Road and end at Ketetahi Car Park.
    • This is a thru-hike, so you’ll need to organize a shuttle transport a few days in advance.
  2. Tama Lakes (17 km return)
    • Trailhead: Whakapapa Visitor Centre at Ngauruhoe Place
  3. Taranaki Falls (6 km loop)
    • Trailhead: Whakapapa Visitor Centre at Ngauruhoe Place
  4. Mount Ruapehu
    • Trailhead: Iwikau Village
    • Marked Tracks: Skyline Ridge (1.5-2 hrs return), Waterfalls Descent (1.5 hrs), Meads Wall (15-20 min, return)
    • Unmarked Track: Crater Lake (5 hrs return) – only attempt this on a clear day.

Stay in/near Tongariro National Park

Camping | Kaimanawa Road Campsite is a free campground for SC and NSC vehicles. Given its proximity to Ketetahi Car Park (where the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike ends), this campsite fills up early.

Budget | Pipers Lodge is a great value accommodation, located in Tongariro National Park. The lodge features a bar and restaurant, a lounge with an open fireplace, and a communal kitchen. Guests also have access to hot tubs and a game room (ping pong, pool, etc…).

Midrange | Chateau Tongariro Hotel is a stately hotel in Whakapapa Village set in the heart of Tongariro National Park, at the base of Mount Ruapehu. You can hike to Tama Lakes and Taranaki Falls directly from the hotel. During your stay, you can enjoy the indoor pool, fitness center, sauna, game room, and hotel cinema. Tip: make a reservation for high tea, which is a bucket list experience for many.

Luxury | Tongariro Suites in Ohakune delivers a polished and elevated experience with its attention to detail, modern furnishings, and spacious rooms. A free breakfast basket is delivered to your room, so you can enjoy breakfast in bed.

Look for accommodation in Tongariro National Park.

 
Three Week New Zealand North Island Itinerary | Moon & Honey Travel

Days 11-13: Taupo & Around

Taupo is a small town situated on Lake Taupo. After hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, drive to Taupo and take a refreshing dip in the lake (highly recommend). Base yourself here for a few days so that you can explore the lake and the region’s geothermal parks and thermal pools.

Soak in Hot Springs

  • Spa Thermal Park – Hot thermal waters of the Otumuheke Stream meet the Waikato River. There are several natural pools (below the bridge) that you can soak in. If you get too hot, you can take a dip in the river. For a peaceful experience, come early in the morning. 
  • Wairakei Terraces & Health Spa – Thermal pools for adults only. Mineral Waters gently cascade over silica terraces into several pools. The complex is small, but it’s a great way to rejuvenate after a long hike. It’s 25 NSD per person, but make sure to check out GrabOne (online coupon shop) for a 1/2 off coupon.

Visit a Geothermal Park

  • Orakei Korako Geothermal Park & Cave – There’s a circular boardwalk that takes you to all the features of the park (boiling mud pools, steam vents, geysers). From the parking lot, you’ll take a short boat ride across the river to get to the site. It was nice, but it seemed over-priced for what it was. 36 NSD per person.
  • Craters of the Moon – Geothermal field filled with exposed steam vents just north of Taupo. We didn’t visit, but we wanted to include it here, so you know what your options are. 

Eat and drink

  • Vine Eatery & Bar – Excellent restaurant with a long wine list. We loved the chorizo seafood risotto! 

Stay in Taupo

Camping | Reids Park Farm Freedom Campground Campground for SC and NSC vehicles. From the campground, you can walk to the Huka Falls via a lovely soft trail through the redwoods. Just cross the road, head north (in the direction of the falls) and look for a sign/footpath heading into the forest. Maps.Me (mobile app) was helpful in locating the trail. You can also walk on the road (not as fun), or drive to the Huka Falls parking lot.

Budget | Haka Lodge Taupo The backpacker property offers a range of upmarket dormitory rooms as well as private rooms for those who like their own space. It’s only a few minutes walk to the lake or to the town centre. 

Midrange | Gables Lakefront Motel – Self-contained apartments with lake views and a family spa pool. This family run motel is a great base for exploring Taupo and it’s surroundings. 

Look for accommodation in Taupo.

 
Cape Kidnappers Gannet Colony, New Zealand

Days 14-16: Hawke's Bay

Hawke’s Bay is a region on the east coast of the North Island. From the art deco town of Napier to the impressive wineries around Havelock North, Hawke’s Bay is reason alone to visit the North Island. Wine lovers, this is for you.

Wine Tasting in Hawke’s Bay

As the oldest and second largest wine-producing region in New Zealand, some of the countries finest wines are produced here. Stand out varietals are Chardonnay and Viognier. Apart from the quality of the wine, it was the welcoming atmosphere of the wineries that we really loved. We highly recommend wandering between cellar doors and doing as much tasting as you’re able. But, we also highly recommend dining at the wineries. Many wineries have adjoined restaurants that specialize in new-concept food, elevating New Zealand cuisine to art. Our best meals in the North Island of New Zealand were at these wineries.

  • Elephant Hill Wine Estate – This place makes an impression. The cuisine and wine (chardonnay) are exceptional. The service is kind and attentive. We treated ourselves to dinner here after hiking to Cape Kidnappers.
  • Black Barn Vineyards – Light-filled modern bistro. We came here for lunch and had a remarkable fish dish. The viognier was liquid heaven. If you time your visit right, there are sometimes open-air concerts.
  • Craggy Range – Directly facing Te Mata Peak, this must be the most beautiful winery in the region. We had an excellent wine tasting experience here. If you decide to linger, check out their Terrôir Restaurant or stay in one of their cottages.

Bonus: Don’t leave the area without getting a Neapolitan Pizza at Alessandro’s Pizzeria Napoletana in Havelock North.

Guided Tours: If you are interested in joining a wine and/or food tour, check out these options.

Gannet-watching at Cape Kidnappers

Bird sanctuaries and wildlife parks are enjoyable, but if you have an opportunity to witness birds in their natural habitat, it’s far more rewarding. Cape Kidnappers is home to four gannet colonies, where an estimated total of 15,700 gannets live. Because gannets are surprisingly tolerant of humans, you can observe them up close. This is one of the best wildlife experiences you can have, so please prioritize it on your New Zealand North Island itinerary.

They nest in close proximity to one another. So, you’ll see hundreds of birds soaring around the colonies, guarding their chicks and displaying unique “partner” behavior. For example, paired gannets will rub their beaks and necks together when a partner returns home to its nest site.

How to get to the gannet Colony:

  • Hike. The hike starts at the carpark at Clifton. It’s a 2-hour beach walk to reach the Black Reef Colony and an additional 45 min to reach the gannet Colony. It gets really windy along the coast, so make sure you have a proper rain/wind jacket.
  • For those that are unable to hike, or have less time, there are several different tour operators offering shuttle tours (via roads), tractor and trailer tours (via the beach), or quadbike rentals (via the beach).

When to go: early November to late February (when the chicks have hatched). In March, the gannets start their migration to Australia.

What time to go: low tide. Lonely Planet recommends: “leave no earlier than 3 hours after high tide; start back no later than 1.5 hours after low tide.” Use MetService to check the tide, as it varies each day.

Stay in Napier, Hastings or Havelock North

Camping | Clifton Beach Reserve Motor Camp

Budget | Toad Hall Accommodation in Napier – This budget option offers private or dormitory style rooms. It’s just a 10 minutes walk to the heart of town.

Midrange | Art Deco Masonic Hotel in Napier – A fitting place to stay when in NZ’S art deco town. Individually styled studios and apartments.

Luxury | Craggy Range Luxury Vineyard Retreat – Take your wine tasting to the next level, and just stay at the winery.

Look for accommodation in Hawke’s Bay.

 
Martinborough, New Zealand North Island | Moon & Honey Travel

Days 17-18 : Martinborough Wine Region

Martinborough is a sunny wine village in the Wairarapa wine region. It has a laid back, casual vibe that makes wine tasting here so enjoyable. Wairarapa is like the Anderson Valley of California. Martinborough itself is a charming town surrounded by 20 wineries. It’s flat, so hopping on a bike is a good option for getting between tasting rooms. The region is renowned for its pinot noir, but also produces excellent pinot gris and gewürztraminer. We’re going to say something controversial – we like Martinborough’s sauvignon blanc far more than Marlborough’s. It’s less acidic and a bit rounder.

Wine Tasting in Martinborough

  • If you arrive in Martinborough after 4:30/5:00 p.m., most of the cellar doors will be closed. Head to the wine bar Micro for a flight of local wine.
  • Haythornthwaite Wines – This is a family owned boutique vineyard of 11 acres. Sit in the garden and order a cheese platter and a full wine tasting. On a sunny day, you won’t want to leave. Whatever you do, don’t leave without tasting the gewürztraminer.
  • Palliser Estate – we enjoyed our wine tasting here. We saw a couple eating a huge slice of chocolate cake with their wine, and regret not doing the same.
  • If you would like to join a guided wine tasting experience in Martinborough, check out these tours.

Stay in Martinborough

Camping | Martinborough Top 10 Holiday Park

Budget | Martinborough Motel a perfect low-key spot for wine tasting in Martinborough. Walking distance to everything you need.

Midrange | The Martinborough Hotel – Originally built in 1882 and lovingly restored, this classic hotel is the nicest place to stay in town.

Look for accommodation in Martinborough.

 
Seal Colony, North Island Itinerary, New Zealand | Moon & Honey Travel

Day 19: Cape Palliser

If you decide to drive to Cape Palliser, you’ll be rewarded with rugged coastal scenery, a seal colony, a historical lighthouse and an opportunity to hike into New Zealand’s weirdest landform.

See & Do

  • Putangirua Pinnacles – The hike to the pinnacles starts at the Putangirua Pinnacles campsite. The pillars consist of partially cemented greywacke gravels that have been contoured by water and wind. This badlands-like landscape was also a Lord of the Rings filming location!
  • Seal Colony – Before reaching the Lighthouse, look for the North Island’s largest fur seal colony.
  • Cape Palliser Lighthouse –  It takes 252 steps to reach the candy-cane Cape Palliser Lighthouse. Operating since 1897, the cast iron lighthouse originally burned oil. Today, it’s fully automated and its light can be seen for 46 km.

Stay in Martinborough or Putangirua Pinnacles (Campers Only)

Camping | Putangirua Pinnacles Campground is located at the trailhead to the Pinnacles walk.

Budget | Martinborough Motel a perfect low-key spot for wine tasting in Martinborough. Walking distance to everything you need.

Midrange | The Martinborough Hotel – Originally built in 1882 and lovingly restored, this classic hotel is the nicest place to stay in town.

Look for accommodation in Martinborough.

 
New Zealand North Island Three Week Itinerary | Moon & Honey Travel

Days 20-21: Wellington

After an amazing road trip, it’s time to wrap up your New Zealand North Island Itinerary in the city of Wellington. Wellington is the small heart-beating capital of New Zealand. If you’re craving art, theater, museums, Wellington is the place to be. We loved eating our way around town as well as attending a Royal New Zealand Ballet performance. Make sure to spend some time in New Zealand’s national museum: Te Papa (Free Entry).

Where to Eat and Drink in Wellington

  • Comes & Goes (in Petone) – Creative, and beautifully plated dishes with an Asian influence. The food is almost too pretty to eat.
  • The Library – Cocktail and wine lounge. If we lived in Wellington, we’d come here every week.
  • Rasa – Malaysian eatery. Reasonably priced and flavorful.

Stay in Wellington

Camping | Camp Wellington & Coastal Lodge. Bookings are Essential.

Budget | YHA Wellington – This hostel offers a well equipped kitchen in a vibrant and happy atmosphere. Moreover, it provides a free shuttle to Interislander ferry.

Mid-range | U Boutique Hotel is an amazing little hotel in the hip part of the city.

Luxury | Bolton Hotel offers a choice of spacious studios and suites. It’s the perfect place to return to after exploring the city.

Look for accommodation in Wellington.

Traveling to the South Island Next?

We took the Interislander Ferry from Wellington to Picton. The ferry is 3.5 hours. You’ll find a bar, café and shop on board, making the crossing a leisurely ride. Check out our South Island Itinerary.

 

New Zealand Travel Resources

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New Zealand North Island Itinerary - 3 Week Road Trip
Moon & Honey Travel Resources
External Resources
  • DOC (Department of Conservation) – you’ll find every DOC trail, hut, camping ground and national park on this website.
  • MetService – weather forecast. We used this site religiously, when planning out hiking dates.
  • Day Walks in New Zealand: 100 Great Tracks by Shaun Barnett & Geographx – we used this book religiously to figure out where we wanted to hike.
  • Lonely Planet New Zealand – indispensable guide for traveling in NZ. We consulted our LP throughout our whole trip. We also bought the the Lonely Planet’s New Zealand’s Best Trips book. This is a road trip guide that gives you a good visual understanding of how regions are connected and how to plan your trip. Buying both was a bit redundant, but it did simplify the planning process.
@moonhoneytravelers
  • View of Tre Cime di Lavaredo/Drei Zinnen from the summit of Monte Specie/Strudelkopf.

You can walk to Monte Specie from the Prato Piazza/Plätzwiese plateau in Braies/Pragser Tal Valley.

📍Italian Dolomites
  • Best hikes in the Dolomites by region:

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🏔 Cortina d’Ampezzo

🏔 Alta Pusteria 

🏔 Val Gardena & Alpe di Siusi 

🏔 Val d’Ega 

🏔 Val di Funes 

🏔 Alta Badia 

🏔Pale di San Martino 

💛 Our favorite trail: Sentiero Bonacossa through Cadini di Misurina 

💾 Save this post for future reference.
  • 25 Best Day Hikes in the Dolomites + 5 Viewpoint Hikes

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These hikes span across multiple ranges in Trentino, Belluno and South Tyrol. 

Tag someone you want to hike in the Dolomites with 🥾😃

📍Pale di San Martino, Trentino
  • Lago Federa in the Ampezzo Dolomites. 

You can hike up to this lake directly from Cortina d‘Ampezzo, but the fastest ascent route starts at the Ponte di Rocurto trailhead, which is located along SP638 - halfway between Pocol and Passo Giau.

📍Province of Belluno, Veneto, Italy
  • South face of Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Drei Zinnen) in the Sexten Dolomites.
  • Cortina d’Ampezzo is one of the best places to stay in the Dolomites for hiking (and of course skiing).

Cortina is located in the center of Ampezzo Valley, ringed by the Tofane, Sorapiss, Cristallo, and Croda da Lago mountains.

➡️Swipe right for some of our favorite huts, places, and trails around Cortina.

🌙🍯For the full guide, head to our blog: 
https://www.moonhoneytravel.com/cortina-d-ampezzo-italy/