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21Days

Auckland to Auckland – North Island Round Trip

Driving Tour

So great news – you’ve got a 3 week trip planned around the North Island of New Zealand and you’re setting off from Auckland. The first place to visit will be the Bay of Islands and although there’s heaps of stuff to do once you get up there, make sure you take the time on your drive north to stop off at some of the little gems along the way – it’s a great way to break up your journey but also discover some of the great things that are not always listed in the ‘things to do’ guides. So, without further ado – let’s GO!

Contents

  1. Route map with key locations
  2. Recommended vehicle for this trip
  3. Trip itinerary

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Trip Itinerary

1Auckland

You could spend 21 days in and around Auckland alone there is so much to do but with only 21 days to explore all of the North Island, 1 day in NZ’s largest city, home to 1.3 million people and known as the City of Sails is all we can afford. After a nice stroll in downtown Auckland, checking out the Viaduct area and maybe grabbing a bite to eat it’s time to get to know your new hire car a little better. A perfect place to start is to head out west through the suburbs and out to the Waitakere Ranges. With heaps of tracks through the lush forest, there is plenty to keep you busy here. If walking’s not your thing, keep driving through the forest and end up at one of the superb west coast beaches like Piha or Muriwai. The surf’s good out there and the black volcanic sand makes for an interesting day at the beach.
Image taken of the Auckland skyline at night with the Skytower clearly visible

If you’re looking for something a bit closer to home but still fancy a drive out, head on out to Devonport or even up to one of the North Shore’s laid back locations like Browns Bay where you can grab a coffee and watch the world go by.

Auckland is an awesome place to spend the day and there is something for everyone. If you need some more inspiration, check out our top 5 things to do in Auckland.

Auckland Complete Guide

Related Blog Posts

2Auckland to Paihia (227kms – 2 hours 54 mins)

Whether you’ve just flown in or you live in and around Auckland, the drive North up State Highway 1 offers up some great stop off points on the way so take your time and make the most of some of these little unknown beauties.

Image of Long Bay Regional Park on Auckland's North Shore

Long Bay Regional Park (23.8kms – 27 mins)

Heading out of Auckland on SH1 a great little detour awaits only half an hour into your journey. Long Bay Regional Park located close to Browns Bay is a great place to soak up some fresh coastal air and have a stroll on the cliff top walk. The bay itself is great for kayaking and paddle boarding so if that floats your boat, give it a whirl.

Puhoi (32.3kms – 30 mins)

As SH1 comes to an end in the typical sense of a highway and moves to predominantly a single lane road all the way north, you’ll come across the quaint little village of Puhoi. If cheese is your thing, the Puhoi Valley Café and Cheese Store is well worth a stop off to stock up. They do a delicious blue cheese as well as more traditional cheese varieties that you’ll struggle to find in the supermarkets. They also have some awesome ice creams so whatever the weather, treat yourself!

Kawakawa (170kms – 2 hours 9 mins)

The next stage of your journey north passes through commercial hubs like Warkworth and Whangarei. If you get chance to stop off in and around Warkworth, there are some great little vineyards in and around Matakana if you want to stock up for the weekend. Kawakawa is worth a quick stop off and for the most unusual reason – the public toilets! Designed by renowned Austrian artist Friendensreich Hundertwasser, the toilets are an artistic marvel!

Paihia (16.5km – 19 mins)

From Kawakawa it’s only a short drive to your final destination of Paihia, gateway to the Bay of Islands. Hopefully you’ll have arrived in plenty of time to get your bearings and have an explore and maybe book yourself onto a trip for the following day. The best way to explore the Bay of Islands is undoubtedly on the water so check out your options and get yourself booked on an excursion.

3Around the Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is packed with things to do so we recommend taking your first full day up here to head out on a trip and explore the islands. With so many options it’s difficult to decide what to do – here’s a list of our highlights from the adventurous to the more sedate:

Bay of Islands Cruise

There are many companies offering a cruise round the harbour including Fullers and the Explore Group. Trips will take you out dolphin watching and to famous landmarks like the Hole in the Rock. Great news for you guys is that Bay of Islands Cruise offer a 15% discount when you present your shiny GO Play card so make sure you take advantage and head out onto the water.

Jet Boat Ride

If you’ve never experienced the power of a jet boat ride, the Bay of Islands is a great way to break your duck. Traveling along at breakneck speeds, the jet boat experience will get you out into the deep waters to explore the multitude of Islands whilst giving you a thrill ride at the same time. You’ll also get the chance to go and check out the famous ‘Hole in the Rock’.

Russell

Image looking through from the Mast at Russell looking down onto the town For a more sedate day, why not catch the ferry across to Russell (20 minutes) and wander the Olde Worlde streets. There are some lovely cafes and restaurants on the sea front where you can easily spend a few hours people watching. The Duke of Marlborough is a particular favourite of the GO Rentals team.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

New Zealand’s premier historic site where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 – a partnership between Maori and the British Crown and the founding document of New Zealand. Visit the treaty house and take a look at the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe.

Fishing

The Bay of Islands is one of New Zealand’s premier deep fishing spots so if this is your thing, get yourself booked onto a charter and out into the deeper waters beyond the Islands. Kingfish, Marlin and Snapper are the order of the day and if you’re successful out at sea, any one of the fish and chip shops located in the town will batter up your catch of the day for around 50 cents – a great end to the day.

Bay of Islands Complete Guide

4Cape Reinga (212.5kms – 2 hours 41 mins)

A trip to Northland wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Northern most tip of New Zealand where you get to see the rare occurrence of 2 oceans colliding which can be spectacular on a stormy day. The Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean cross over at the tip of Cape Reinga and from the lighthouse, you get some fantastic views out over the spectacle.

Image of a sign found at Cape Reinga pointing to different places around the world with the distance
GO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

The drive north will take you up alongside 90 mile beach and it’s well worth a stop off on your way up or on your way back down.

90 Mile Beach

Officially a highway, 90 mile beach is only recommended for 4WD vehicles and unfortunately our GO cars are not insured to be driven on the sand. This doesn’t mean that you can’t still have lots of fun up here. From surfing the waves to riding the sand dunes, there are plenty of activities on both the land and sea to keep you entertained.

It will have been a full day of driving but hopefully you have managed a lot of pit stops along the way and really soaked up the best that Northland has to offer. Arriving back in Paihia, there are plenty of options for eating and drinking – two GO Rentals favourites include Only Seafood and the Bay of Islands Swordfish Club who always have a warm welcome for visitors.

5Paihia, Kerikeri and around

After a full on day driving up to the Northern most tip of New Zealand, today is going to be a bit more relaxing with less driving and more sight-seeing.

The Stone Store and Mission House

Located in Kerikeri, the Stone Store is New Zealand’s oldest building dating back to 1836. This is a chance to take a step back in time and from here you can also go on a tour of New Zealand’s oldest building, the wooden Mission House which dates back to 1822. There is a store that sells all sorts of Kiwiana gifts as well as the type of goods that used to be sold in the Stone Store.

There are some short walks around the area including the historical walk which leads you on a trail of discovery back into Maori culture.

Haruru Falls

A short drive out of Paihia and you come across Haruru Falls – a small residential settlement that sit alongside the waterfalls of the same name. Haruru literally means ‘big noise’ and the water coming over the falls after heavy rainfall can make a deafening sound. The waterfalls provide some great photo opportunities and if you don’t fancy a drive out today, you can always hop onto a boardwalked track that runs from the Waitangi Treaty Grounds to the falls.

Around Paihia

Of course this day is all about relaxing and with so much to do here in the Bay of Islands, this is also a great chance to explore anything you didn’t manage to fit into day 2 of your adventure. If you took a trip out on a boat to see the Hole in the Rock or maybe a jet boat ride, perhaps today is the day for catching the ferry over to Russell and taking it easy.

6Paihia to Auckland via Waipoua Forest (345kms – 4 hours 45 mins)

Hopefully you will have crammed a lot into your 5 day trip to the Bay of Islands – there is so much to see and do up here that people always leave wishing they had more time. If you’re not in a hurry to get back to Auckland it’s well worth taking a longer route back to the big little city to check out the impressive Kauri trees in the Waipoua Forest.

Waipoua Forest (113kms – 1 hours 44 mins)

Here you will find the best preserved and largest of the remaining Kauri forests in New Zealand. Among them is the legendary Tane Mahuta, the ‘Lord of the Forest’ who at 51.5 metres is the largest (by volume) of these ancient trees.
Photo of the might Tane Mahuta, the largest known Kauri tree in New Zealand found in the Waipoua Forest on the west coast North of Auckland

It’s another 232kms back to Auckland which will take you just over 3 hours so make sure you allow plenty of time in your day.

7Auckland rest day

With so much to see and do in Auckland, this is a chance to get out and explore some of the things you may have missed on Day 1. After a lot of driving over the last 5 days, you may fancy a day out of the car and if that is the case, we can highly recommend heading down to the Viaduct and catching a ferry to one of the islands that are found just off shore. Here are 3 of our favourite trips:

Devonport

Although this is not an island, the easiest was to get to Devonport from the city is via a 15 minute ferry. As you disembark, you will find yourself taking a step back in terms of the pace of life over in Devonport. With a great variety of cafes and bars, it’s a great place to spend a few hours meandering around the headland or for the more energetic, take a walk up Mount Victoria, the highest volcano on the North Shore.

Rangitoto

You must have noticed the conical island located just off shore and visible from many places around Auckland? Rangitoto is the youngest of the 50 volcanoes dotted in and around Auckland and there are regular ferries running to the island every day. Once you get dropped off, there is a clearly marked path which allows you to walk all the way to the summit offering amazing views back to the city and on clear days, across to the Coromandel Peninsula and up to Goat Island.

Waiheke Island

This is probably the favourite trip for the GO Rentals crew as there is so much to do on Waiheke. The island is extremely developed with all the amenities you would expect on the main land. The best thing about Waiheke however is the grapes and in particular, those used for making wine. There are a number of companies offering wine tours or you can hire a bike and cycle to the cellar doors – most offer sampling and it’s a great way to see the island. As well as some superb wine, the island also has some amazing beaches and we recommend spending a full day on the island.
Panoramic view of Waiheke Island off Auckland

8Auckland to the Coromandel Peninsula (168km – 2 hours 30 mins)

Heading out from central Auckland and taking the State Highway 1 south, you will soon find yourself getting away from the hustle and bustle of the big little city as you start to hit the lush green countryside. Just past Bombay is the turn off towards the Coromandel onto SH2 however we urge you to head down SH1 for one additional junction – the detour will be well worth it we promise!

Pokeno Ice Cream (52.1km – 36mins from Auckland)

We know we made you come an extra junction down but it’s already time for the best kind of stop – an ice cream pit stop. The Pokeno store is renowned for the biggest ice creams in the country. Pokeno Takeaways, on Great South Road, will sell you a 15-scoop ice cream (yes, you read that right). Treat yourself. See, we told you it was worth it!
Pokeno Ice Cream 15 Scooper

Coromandel Peninsula (120km – 2 hours from Pokeno)

Head back one junction north on SH1 and take the turn off onto SH2 heading for Thames. This will take you through lush flat lands as you follow Route 25 and really start to hit the open roads that NZ is famous for. When booking your trip to the Coromandel, there are a number of places to stay – our personal favourite is on the east side of the peninsula at Whitianga or Hahei but you could also choose to stay in Coromandel Township – wherever you stay down here is going to be amazing so pick whatever suits your trip.

Coromandel Township

If you picked to stay at Coromandel Township you will take Route 25 up the west side of the peninsula. After passing through the quaint little town of Thames, the road makes its windy way along the coastline with some fantastic views back across towards the mainland where you have just come from.

Arriving in Coromandel Township, you’ll immediately notice that the town has a laid back feel to it so take the Kiwi approach and don’t rush around – it’s time to take a more laid back approach to this road trip! Enjoy the atmosphere, as well as the numerous artisan centres spread around the place where you can take your pick at different workshops and pick up some beautifully handcrafted pottery, wood carving or painting. Before you head off, stop by the Coromandel Museum and learn a little about the town’s gold mining and Kauri history, both of which have shaped the region into what it is today.

Whitianga

If you decided that Whitianga was for you, then you will instead head to the east coast on Route 25A, merging with Route 25 towards Tairua, a small village on the drive up which is a nice place for a stop off to break up the drive. The next section of road from Tairua to Whitianga is very hilly and very windy so drive with care whilst taking in some of the breath taking views – there are regular lookout spots along the way so take your time, especially if you haven’t driven this way before.

Whitianga is a great little town with heaps of character. The shell-clad beach around Mercury Bay stretches on for miles and there are a number of accommodation options which open up right on to the beachfront (there is a road between you and the sand if we’re being honest!). Whitianga has a great range of bars, cafes and restaurants so it’s the perfect place to relax on your first night down on the Coromandel.

9Around the Coromandel Peninsula

Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach holiday or something a bit more adventurous, there is plenty to do whichever side of the peninsula you have based yourself. Here are a few of our top tips for adventure or relaxation.

Beaches

Hot Water Beach (34kms – 30 mins from Whitianga)

Hot Water Beach
One of the quirkiest spots on the Coromandel is Hot Water Beach. Located around 30 minutes from Whitianga, for one hour either side of low tide, it’s possible to dig yourself a little hot pool and bathe in the waters – if you kick your legs enough you might even think you’re in a hot tub! This is great fun in the summer or winter and spades are available for hire or most places to stay in and around Whitianga will be able to help you out.

New Chums Beach – Wainuiototo Bay (15km – 20 mins from Coromandel Township)
Now this is something truly special. This little hidden gem is considered by many one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It’s small and it requires a short hike to get to but what you’ll find is an example of the really pristine and unspoiled natural wonders of New Zealand.

Cathedral Cove (37kms – 40 mins from Whitianga)
One of the more famous and most visited beaches in these parts is at Cathedral Cove. There are a number of tour operators who will give you a guided tour out to visit the sea caves and check out the towering cliffs of the Te-Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve.

Hahei (36kms – 35 mins from Whitianga)
Rope Swing, Hahei Beach, Coromandel Peninsula
If you’re looking for a really great spot to lay back and watch the world go by, Hahei is the perfect place. Lovely golden sands and crystal clear waters will greet you and there’s no better place when the sun is shining. This is also an access point to Cathedral Cove which is only accessible by foot or boat so make a day of it and visit both while you are round this way. If you’re brave enough, there is a great rope swing at the end of the beach which will swing you out over the incoming tide – lots of fun!

Adventure and Activities

Cooks Beach (1.5 hour walk from Whitianga including ferry crossing)

If you’re looking to head out and about and leave the car at home for a day, Cooks Beach is a great walk out from Whitianga harbour. Catch the ferry across to Ferry Landing and then head round Maramaratotara Bay towards Shakespeare Cliff Scenic and Historic Reserve. It’s possible to access the walk from the beach at low tide or from the road if the tide is high. From the top of the reserve, you have some great views out over Mercury Bay before dropping down to the 3km crescent of Cooks Beach.
Cooks Beach, Coromandel Peninsula

Fishing
There are some great fishing trips to take whether you are staying in Whitianga or Coromandel Township. Snapper is a popular catch round these parts but once you get out into the deeper waters, game fish like kingfish can be found and make for a great catch. There are a number of charters available so get yourself booked on for a relaxing day out to sea and catch your supper!

Banana Boat
One of the most popular activities in Whitianga is the banana boat. You will have all seen them before but if you have never been brave enough to have a go, maybe now’s the time to break your duck. The banana boat will take you out into Mercury Bay and speed you around whilst you cling on for dear life – a dip into the water is a typical end to one of these trips but the water is lovely and warm in the summer so enjoy.

Kauri Grove (3kms south of Coromandel Township)
A spectacular grove of New Zealand’s oldest and most famous trees, the kauri. The walk is a 30 minute return along boardwalks and footbridges – a fairly sedate walk but a great chance to see some of New Zealand’s oldest trees if you have not yet had the chance.

Rangihau Ranch Horse Riding (18kms – 20 mins from Whitianga)
Follow the old pack horse trails in the valleys of the Coroglen through native bushland and across open pastures on a 1 or 2 hour horse trek. There is something quite romantic or rugged (depends on who you’re with!) about horse trekking and the stunning views out across the peninsula are well worth a bit of saddle soreness the next day!

Coromandel Complete Guide

10Coromandel Peninsula to Paeroa (87.9km – 1 hour 35 mins)

Waihi (108km – 1 hour 52 mins from Coromandel Township)

As you head out of the peninsula, make sure you stop by the impressive Martha’s Mine in Waihi. You can take a goldmine tour and find out more about this important part of New Zealand history. Take some time to learn a bit more about the gold mining history, as there won’t be many other opportunities to do so during the trip.

Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway (13.2km – 12 mins from Waihi)

Dust off the hiking boots, we’re going for a little walk. Well, sort of little – 7 kilometres.

The Karangahake Gorge Walkway features the remains of a historical railway nestled in a natural gorge setting. The walk will take you through relics of back in the day when the area was a big gold mining region. It follows the railway line through the gorge and alongside the Ohinemuri River, through the Victoria Battery Complex and ending in the Waikino Station (which includes a cafe for a much deserved post-walk beverage).

To get to the start of the walkway, park your rental car at the Karangahake Domain Car Park on SH2 between Waihi and Paeroa, get your hiking boots on and off you go!

Giant L&P Bottle (97.2km – 1 hour 36 mins from Whitianga)

Giant L&P Bottle
GO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

There isn’t much to this small town but it’s known for being the birthplace of L&P, the iconic kiwi drink that is “world famous in New Zealand”. This soft drink was originally produced using lemon and mineral water from Paeroa (hence L&P). The giant L&P bottle landmark is a mandatory photo stop for any self-respecting tourist so make sure you strike a pose in front of it too – make sure you send your photo in to our GO Snap Happy collection on the GO Rentals website for your chance to win back the cost of your rental – can’t say fairer than that!

With plenty of accommodation options from B&Bs to lodges, Paeroa is a great place to stop off for the night on your route south.

11Paeroa to Rotorua (127km – 2 hours 2 mins)

Matamata (58km – 59 mins from Paeroa)

Matamata – so good they named it twice! If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, this is the place for you. If you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan (we don’t judge), you’ll still enjoy the stop in Matamata.

The town includes the set of Hobbiton from Peter Jackson’s movies and a guided tour of the movie set (starting from the Information Centre right on the main street) is a must-do for any visitor. You’ll be able to visit 44 unique hobbit holes (just like in the movies), including Bag End (Bilbo Baggins’ house), as you make your way through the Shire, passing iconic locations such as the Green Dragon Pub, the double arched bridge and the Party Tree. Another great photo op awaits so show us your best Frodo pose or maybe you’re more of a Legolas!
Close up image of one of the hobbit houses found on the set in Hobbiton, Matamata

After that, it’s time to continue south. Our next stop: Putaruru.

Chainsaw Collection at the New Zealand Timber Museum (29.9km – 28mins from Matamata)

Not exactly the most obvious choice for a recommended touristic attraction but we’re talking about unique and quaint experiences that you will only get in New Zealand, right? So here’s one: a chainsaw collection at a Timber Museum in the small town of Putaruru, about an hour south of Hamilton. You don’t find that in many other places.

Blue Spring

Before you head out of Putaruru, stop for a visit to the international acclaimed Blue Spring with crystal clear blue waters. Pack a picnic and head along the Te Waihou Walkway to reach the spring. The walk takes about 1.5 hours each way and passes through rolling farmland, New Zealand native bush and even some waterfalls.

Mandatory waterfall photo taken, it’s time to keep heading south. Our next stop is Rotorua and should take you about 50 minutes.

12Rotorua and around

You probably noticed it as soon as you drove into Rotorua – that sulphuric smell (no that wasn’t your fellow passengers!), the vents on the ground letting steam off, the boiling mud everywhere. You’ve arrived in New Zealand’s thermal wonderland.

Wai-O-Tapu

Image of the Champagne Pools at Wai-o-Tapu, Rotorua Rotorua is bubbling (see what we did there?) with geothermal activity and you can see it (and smell it) wherever you look. But one of the best places to see it in all its glory is Wai-O-Tapu, a place that encompasses a range of different volcanic activity, including the world famous Champagne Pool and the Lady Knox Geyser. You’ll want to spend a good couple of hours wandering around Wai-O-Tapu and visiting all the different lakes, mud pools and geysers. And…Wai-O-Tapu is a GO Play partner so you get all this geothermal fun with a 10% discount. Result.

Te Puia

For stunning examples of Maori culture that you’ll not find anywhere else, pay a visit to Te Puia (about five minutes from the centre of town).

You’ll learn about Maori culture and costumes from Maori people themselves, as well as witness a few more examples of geothermal activity (we’re still in Rotorua after all). Make sure you attend the Maori culture performance at the Marae (by the entrance) and visit the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute located inside as well. Te Puia also includes a live kiwi bird enclosure (a rare opportunity to see the New Zealand icon) and the famous Pohutu Geyser.

Zorbing

Right, that’s enough walking around, it’s time for some adrenaline. Head to the Zorb (149 Western Road in Rotorua), another GO Play partner, for a few minutes of adrenaline-infused adventure.

Image of people 'zorbing' down a hill in Rotorua, New Zealand

Zorbing first started in New Zealand so what better place to experience it than right in the heart of the country where it all began? Zorbing (which is basically rolling down some hills inside a giant inflatable ball) is one of those activities on many people’s bucket lists. Tick that off yours now before we continue heading south.

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Adrenalin Forest Aerial Forest Adventure

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Mamaku Blue

Mamaku Blueberries
Our next stop is Mamaku Blue (311 Maraeroa Rd) for a more relaxed, less adrenaline-infused activity. This is where you’ll find out that, in case you didn’t know, blueberries are the solution to all your problems. At Mamaku Blue, everything is blueberry-based, from the wine to the toiletries. Did you even know you could get blueberry wine? The cafe only serves blueberry-based food and you’ll have the chance to learn all about how this fruit can heal pretty much anything.

New Zealand Caterpillar Experience

The New Zealand Caterpillar Experience will be another one of those unique places you probably don’t expect to find anywhere.

Located on 171 Fairy Springs Road, this is the work of Lindsay Willis, a man who has been collecting Caterpillar equipment for most of his life. We’re talking heavy machinery here, no small stuff. This is the world’s foremost collection of this sort of equipment and Willis keeps it all in excellent condition (with some of the oldest ones still in working order).

The displays are set alongside footage of some of the machinery at work, way back in the day, and you’ll get to see some trucks and bulldozers that are now the only examples left of their kind. Impressive stuff!

13Rotorua to Lake Taupo (81.3km – 1 hour 8 mins)

It’s been an exciting few days and we’re not even close to done yet. It’s time to relax. Before you head out of Rotorua, we suggest you take a few hours to visit the Polynesian Spa, voted one of the best spas in the world. Choose from a range of hot pools or book a massage and enjoy a couple of hours of what holidays really are about – doing absolutely nothing.

Image of a lady having a mud treatment at one of New Zealand's many luxury spas

Rotorua really is the town that keeps on giving with lots more GO Play partners based in and around this geothermal wonderland. We have only given you a flavour of the things you can do here but you may decide you fancy something a bit different so go knock yourselves out and have some fun!

Rotorua Complete Guide

Taupo

Our journey south continues through to Taupo, a town on the shore of New Zealand’s largest lake (with the same name). There’s no shortage of things to do and you can pick and choose from a range of activities.

Make sure you stop at the Huka Falls, a set of incredibly impressive waterfalls along the Waikato River, with about 220,000 litres of water flowing per second (that’s a lot of water). Next, stop at the Huka Prawn Park (Karetoto Rd) for a visit (you’ll need a couple of hours if you want to take the tour) and some seafood deliciousness.

Lake Taupo itself is pretty impressive and, not far from the township, along the Desert Road, you’ll get to see Mount Ruapehu (Mount Doom for you Lord of the Rings fans) and its neighbouring (and equally impressive) volcanoes.
The Desert Road itself is worth the drive as the scenery is not something you’ll find anywhere else (alpine deserts such as this one are a rare sight anywhere else in the world) so take your time to soak in the views.

Although this is a guide to off-the-beaten track adventures it would seem wrong if we failed to mention the amazing skydiving to be had over Lake Taupo. The views are simply stunning as you plummet from 13,000 feet heading towards the lake. A further bonus is that Taupo Tandem Skydiving is a GO Play partner and will kindly offer you a 5% discount for the pleasure of throwing yourself out of a perfectly good aeroplane!
Image of a tandem skydive over Lake Taupo, New Zealand

14Lake Taupo to Napier (143km – 2 hours 3mins)

After a full day relaxing, it’s time to get your skates on and head on over east side to Napier – the wine growing heart of the North Island and a place where sunshine is usually the order of the day.

From Taupo take the SH5 heading east and follow the signs for Napier. It’s a lovely drive down with plenty of little villages along the way if you want a taste of kiwiana or just a stretch of the legs – the main event of the day awaits in Napier though.

Napier

With so many things to do in Napier, hopefully you’ll have arrived in good time to cram it all into one day (and the next morning – shhh!). Napier feels like a step back in time (even more so than the rest of NZ!) with its art deco facades and fountains so take your own step back, slow it all down and spend the day doing exactly what you want to do – you’ve deserved it.

Here are some of our top tips:

Wine tour – Hawkes Bay is one of New Zealand’s most famous wine regions along with Marlborough so it would be rude not to sample at least a couple of the local drops. If you’re feeling energetic, why not hire a bike and cycle between the vineyards – you’ll have truly earned your vino then!

Te Mata Peak

Offering some superb panoramic views of the Ruahine, Kaweka and Maungaharuru Ranges and Cape Kidnappers, whether you bike, hike or drive to the summit of Te Mata, it’s well worth the trip. For the more adventurous, you can even choose to paraglide back down to sea level.
Image from the top of Te Mata Peak in Napier

Coastal walks – the Hawkes Bay coastline provides some of the best walking tracks in the North Island which you can easily hop on to and spend your time admiring the spectacular views.

Arataki Honey Visitors Centre – you may or may not have heard of manuka honey – something that NZ is very famous for. Fabled for its medicinal properties, you can find out all about the bees that help to produce this delicious honey and pick up a pot to take with you on the rest of your travels.

Hawke’s Bay Complete Guide

15Napier to Wellington (315km – 4 hours)

If you’re an early riser, try and head up to Te Mata Peak for sunrise – we managed it once and it was spectacular! After a leisurely morning in Napier, maybe exploring the Marine Parade, it’s time to hit the road to Wellington.

Mt Bruce Wildlife Sanctuary (206km – 2 hours 32 mins)

This is a great little stop off as you get ever closer to Wellington. Home to a whole host of wildlife including the world’s only white kiwi in captivity, the Manukura as well as the Turua, a North Island Brown Kiwi, this is a great place for kids and adults alike. With regular feeding sessions, talks and other activities to keep you entertained, it’s a great way to break up the journey south.

Martinborough (65.5km – 48 mins)

Although it’s a slight detour off the main route into Wellington, Martinborough is well worth a look if you have the time to spare. Martinborough has become the gourmet capital of the lower south island with 25 boutique vineyards and several fantastic restaurants serving delicious local produce. With the whole day to spend in Wellington tomorrow, this is a good shout for dinner as it is only a short drive to your resting place for the night.
Image looking out across the vines at a Martinborough Vineyard

16Wellington

It might be small but New Zealand’s cool capital is jam-packed with things to do and places to see.

Museums

Park your car and head for a walk around the waterfront where you’ll find the fascinating Museum of Wellington City and Sea in the old Harbour Board Bond Store, complete with its opulent 1920s board room and a complete teak cabin from an 1879 steamship. It’s not far from New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa – a futuristic multi-storeyed complex that forms one of the largest new museums in the world, with numerous interactive displays.

For the best panoramic views of the city and Port Nicholson all the way across to the Hutt Valley, head up to the lookout on Mt Victoria. The historic cannon on the summit was installed in 1877 and was fired each day as a time signal for many years. If you look down below, in the suburbs, you will spot the New Zealand Cricket Museum, located in the Old Grandstand at the Basin Reserve, not far from the Colonial Cottage Museum on the site of one of the original 1840 New Zealand Company Town acres.

Image of the Wellington Cable Car taking people from Lambton Quay to the top entrance of the Botanic Gardens
GO Snap Happy Photo Opportunity

Coffee fix

Grab a coffee (Wellington claims to have the best coffee in New Zealand) and visit the cool one-of-a-kind stores along Manners Mall and Cuba Street. When you’re on that street, notice the cool Bucket Fountain that doesn’t actually work the way it’s supposed to (take a close look at it and you’ll see the water doesn’t actually obey the easy bucket system and sometimes misses the buckets altogether).

Treaty of Waitangi

A visit to Archives New Zealand on 10 Mulgrave Street allows you to see the Treaty of Waitangi (the document that is considered the foundation of the country). You can also take a tour of the Beehive, the country’s parliament, if you’re feeling politically-inclined before taking a stroll along the waterfront, decorated with interesting sculptures and populated by numerous bars (including some decent craft beer spots).

Weta workshop

If you have some free time, we suggest a visit to the Weta Workshop, nestled away in the Miramar suburb. Weta is known worldwide for its weird and wonderful creations for film, including creatures, makeup and digital special effects for movies such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Avatar and The Chronicles of Narnia among others.

You can take the 45-minute guided tour through the workshop, which provides unique behind-the-scenes glimpses into the work of this award-winning company.

Wellington Complete Guide

17Wellington to Whanganui (193kms – 2 hours 36 mins)

It is possible to make the drive to New Plymouth in one go, however that is a monster day of driving and with so many things to see and do on the way, we would definitely recommend a stopover in Whanganui on the way north.

Stonehenge Aotearoa (84km – 1 hour 14 mins)

Image of Stonehenge Aotearoa near Wellington A great pit stop on your way north towards Whanganui is at Carterton.

Take Park Road out of Carterton and follow the signs to Stonehenge Aotearoa to see a full scale model of Stonehenge located on the hills of the Wairarapa, pretty much as far from actual Stonehenge as anything can be. You’ll be able to learn a bit about astronomy, both ancient and modern methods, and find out more about Maori astrology too.

Palmerston North (104kms – 1 hour 24 mins)

Although it’s the biggest town between Taupo and Wellington, Palmerston is pretty quiet and this will give you a true insight into Kiwi life. With a plethora of cafes to pick from, this is a great place for morning elevenses – go on, treat yourself to one of those amazing looking muffins!

Bulls (29.8kms – 25 mins)

There’s not much to say about Bulls but you wanted quirky on this tour and quirky is what you’ll get. The only thing of note in this town is the clever (or not!) use of the town’s name by local businesses – unforget-a-bull and hospit-a-bull are two of our personal favourites – let us know yours!

Whanganui (44.1kms – 33 mins)

There’s plenty to see in Whanganui and this makes a great stop over on the way up from Wellington as it sits about half way between New Plymouth and the capital city. We suggest a look at the Cooks Gardens, on St Hill Street, right in the centre of town. These are famous because they were the location where Peter Snell ran the famous sub-four minute mile in January 1962 (that’s crazy fast). If you’re feeling particularly fit, you can try attempting your fastest mile time here too, right where Snell did it in front of 13,000 people.

Afterwards, take some time to wander around the Whanganui Regional Museum, on Watt Street, which displays the impressive work of Gottfried Lindauer, one of the most famous colonial artists in the country. The museum also includes one of the most important collections of Moa bones, including some complete skeletons of the extinct giant bird.

If you have time to spare, it’s good to get out on the river, New Zealand’s longest navigable river which was an important transport route for the early settlers. One of our favourite things to do is head to the Bridge to Nowhere, built in early 1936 and abandoned in 1942 without really ever going anywhere.

18Whanganui to New Plymouth (160kms – 2 hours 11 mins)

We bet you’re glad you decided on a stopover in Whanganui now! With only 2 hours of driving ahead of you again today, you can relax and stop off at places of interest along the way some of which are little pieces of New Zealand gold dust!

Patea (61.6kms – 46 mins)

The Taranaki town of Patea is famous in New Zealand for one thing – the hit Maori song Poi-E! See if you can get one of the locals to sing it for you if you’ve never heard it before – it’s an instant classic and spent a lot of time in the charts in the 80s. Other than that, the town has a rich Maori and European history so it is well worth stopping off for a nosey on your way through.

Hawera (27.3kms – 21 mins)

Hawera Water Tower at night
Hmmmmm cheese! Our penultimate stop of the day will be at Hawera, home of the southern hemisphere’s largest single site dairy factory. We do love a bit of cheese! Around 13 million litres of milk are processed at Hawera every day – that’s a lot of calcium goodness and it’s one of the areas big attractions along with the museum. One thing we love about Hawera is the water tower. Sure, we’ve seen water towers in other towns and cities but we love the history of this one. Built in 1914, the 54 meter high water tower was constructed after a string of fires destroyed parts of the town in 1884, 1895 and 1912. Hawera literally means ‘the burnt place’ or ‘breath of fire’ and it’s easy to see why it gets its name. It is possible to climb to the top of the water tower and the views from up there are pretty stunning.

Stratford (31kms – 28 mins)

Stratford is the last stop off of the day before we hit New Plymouth and was named after William Shakespeare’s birthplace and the town’s streets also recognise some of his most famous characters. Stratford is also home to New Zealand’s only glockenspiel clock tower where performances of Romeo and Juliet are carried out daily. See, we told you this was a guide to off-the-beaten-track activities!

New Plymouth (40.7kms – 35 mins)

It may be quite late when you get in to New Plymouth but you’ll also have time in the morning to explore the city. In full bloom, New Plymouth’s rhododendrons are a sight to behold and the parks dotted around the city are a great place to take a morning stroll. The waterfront is a great place to go and grab a coffee and you can also visit the Puke Ariki museum and heritage centre which has some great exhibits. If you’re here at the right time of the year, New Plymouth is also home to NZ Surfest, an annual surfing competition that attracts some of the best surfers from around the world. There’s also the opportunity to get on a board yourself as they run ‘learn to surf’ classes to get beginners up on their board and catching the waves. Surf’s up dudes!

19Egmont National Park and Mt Taranaki

Within easy driving distance from New Plymouth is Mt Taranaki in the Egmont National Park, a great place to explore with some fantastic walking tracks and trails.

Egmont National Park (29.1kms – 32 mins)

For those of you looking for something a bit more outdoors-y after all that time spent in the car yesterday, a short drive will take you to the heart of Egmont National Park, the home of the majestically conical Mt Taranaki. In the park you will find an extensive walking track network which will take you through lush rainforests, mossy swamps and lead you to some stunning waterfalls.

The highlight for many people who visit these parts is climbing to the top of Mt Taranaki which is possible year round for experienced hikers although it can be tricky in the winter months and we would definitely recommend a guide. The views from the top are magnificent and without a doubt this is your chance to shine in our GO Snap Happy competition. It will take you between 6-8 hours to complete the return journey to the summit. In the winter months, the ski fields on the eastern slopes offer some nice runs for beginners and a great place to start your skiing career.
Image of a snow-capped Mt Taranaki located in the Mt Egmont National Park, New Zealand

New Plymouth Coastal Walkway

If you’re looking for something a little less strenuous than a hike in the National Park then the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway is a great way to explore the area. The walk encompasses the sea-edge promenade for much of the way and you will be sharing the path with joggers and cyclists as this is a popular route day or night for fitness fanatics. The walkway also offers fantastic views of Mt Taranaki so be sure to take your camera.

Even if NZ Surfest is not taking place, a trip to Fitzroy beach is still worth a look to see the locals in action. If you’re feeling brave, why not take a dip and go and do some body surfing – then you can always say you have caught the waves down in New Plymouth like the pros!

Shopping and eating

Considering we are now 19 days into this trip and much of it has been off the beaten track, New Plymouth may be the place to indulge in some retail therapy. There are some great shops in the city where you can easily spend an afternoon meandering around. To cap it all off, there are some fantastic restaurants here so you can treat yourself to a delicious meal out tonight and reflect on what has hopefully been an amazing trip.

Taranaki Complete Guide

20New Plymouth to Raglan (267kms 3 hours 19 mins)

Waitara (16.8kms – 18 mins)

Waitara and Urenui are great places to stop off at the start of this trip up to Raglan. Waitara is the largest town in Northern Taranaki and there is plenty to do here from white water rafting and bridge swinging to something a bit more cultural and the historic Manukorihi Pa, the site of a modern Maori village featuring a magnificent Maori Meeting House.

Awakino Point (73.5kms – 55 mins)

Your journey carries on up the coast to Awakino and this is a great little stop off point to look out over the Tasman and take in the beautiful views. Hopefully you will have timed it right for lunch – whitebait is a speciality around these parts so make sure you give it a go.

Piopio (50.3kms – 36 mins)

Hobbit alert! That’s right folks, a trip to New Zealand is not complete without a Hobbit experience or two so we thought we had better track another one down for you and this one is bit more of a hidden gem. Piopio was host to the biggest on-screen location in the first part of the trilogy and here you will find the area where the troll’s campfire scene was filmed. Hairy Feet offer a great little tour where they will take you into the actor’s footsteps and relive the excitement of being on set.

Te Kuiti (23kms – 17 mins)

We’re not sure about you but we can’t think of anything that’s more synonymous with New Zealand than sheep! That’s why Te Kuiti is a must visit place when you’re down in these parts as each year they host the New Zealand shearing championships, bringing together the best shearers in the country to do battle just after Easter. If you happen to be in and around these parts at that time of the year, be sure to stop in and witness some insane shearing skills.

Waitomo Caves (15.6kms – 18 mins)

Arriving later in the afternoon is perfect for this particular activity. The Waitomo Caves have been formed by rivers and streams pushing through the soft limestone over thousands of years and are now home to some amazing sights and sounds. From the stalactites and stalagmites that grow from the floor and ceiling to the incredible glow worms that light up these underground grottos, this is a stopover not to be missed.
Image of a guide showing people around the Waitomo Caves

If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, you can always experience some blackwater rafting inside the caves where you‘ll be transported through the caves in a rubber ring. Sounds pretty cool to us!

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Waitomo Glowworm Caves Guided Tour

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Te Awamutu (42.6 kms – 37 mins)

The last stop of the day before we hit Raglan is in Te Awamutu. Known as the rose capital of New Zealand, November to April is a great time to visit Te Awamutu to smell the beautiful flowers in full bloom. During season, you can take in the magnificent sight of over 2000 rose bushes in full bloom next to the visitors centre.

Notable residents of Te Awamutu include the Finn brothers Tim and Neil who are the men behind the internationally successful band Crowded House. Te Awamutu gets a mention in their debut single from their self-titled debut album ‘Mean to Me’. There’s a little bit of trivia to bore your car companions with!

Raglan (65kms – 50 mins)

Raglan is a bit of a surfing mecca to kiwis and international travellers alike. With a dramatic black sand coastline, whether surfing is your things or not there is plenty to see and do in Raglan to cap a brilliant final full day of your 3 week road trip.

For those who are into the surfing, they reckon that Manu Bay has the longest left-hand break in the world and if you are up to the task, those who have the gift of surfing can ride a wave for up to 2 kilometres – we’d be happy for 2 seconds up on the board! If surfing is not your thing, we would still recommend getting into the water and enjoying the waves with a bit of body surfing or just cooling off if it’s a hot day.

For those who are not of the sea, there are loads of great walks in the area to take in the views of this spectacular coastline. A climb to the top of Mount Karioi is one for the more energetic but well worth it with views down the coastline to Mt Taranaki on fine days.

The township itself is full of character and characters – many of the locals are bohemian types in search of a sustainable way of life so a trip to one of the cafes or bars is sure to be an eye-opener if you get chatting with the locals – you might not want to leave!

21Raglan to Auckland (149kms – 1 hour 56 mins)

So, the final day of this road trip has arrived but what a beautiful place to wake up in. Raglan is a great place to explore first thing in the morning and is often a hive of activity with surfers heading out to catch a wave and morning joggers and walkers out to enjoy the magnificent views.

We have left you with a relatively short drive back to Auckland today so depending on what time your car is due back, you should have time to grab an expresso from one of the local cafes and enjoy the final morning of your holiday.

We hope you have had an amazing time and seen some pretty cool things along the way. Be sure to send in your photos for our GO Snap Happy competition or to our GO Explore Facebook page – we would love to use them on our itineraries to show off to other travellers.

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