So great news – you’ve got a week-long holiday and you’re planning a trip to the Bay of Islands and the Coromandel Peninsula setting off from Auckland. The first part of your trip is going to take you north and although there’s heaps of stuff to do once you get up to the Bay of Islands, 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. It’s also a good chance to get more familiar with your new rental car – you guys are going to get on like a house on fire! So, without further ado – let’s GO!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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1Auckland 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. If you’ve got the time, we also recommend taking in the sights and sounds of New Zealand’s biggest city before you make the trip north. You can find out some of our top tips for things to do in Auckland here.
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.
2Around 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 around 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. Travelling 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’.
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.
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.
3Cape 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.
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.
Use your GO Play card here
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.
4Paihia, 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.
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.
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.
5Paihia to Coromandel (345kms – 4 hours 45 mins)
There is quite a drive ahead of you today so we’re going to take the most direct route back to Auckland before continuing south towards the Coromandel Peninsula. After you hit the city, your drive will take you through the southern suburbs of Auckland where 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!
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.
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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 will 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.
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 onto the beachfront (there’s just a tiny 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 in the Coromandel.
6Around the Coromandel Peninsula
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach holiday or something a bit more adventurous, there’s plenty to do whichever side of the peninsula you have based yourself. Here are a few of our top tips for adventure or relaxation.
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)
If you are 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 is 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 are 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!
Hot Water Beach (34kms – 30 mins from Whitianga)
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.
Adventure and activities
Cooks Beach (1.5 hour walk from Whitianga including ferry crossing)
If you are 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 is 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.
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!
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!
7Return to Auckland
One of the best things about a trip to the Coromandel is that no matter where you stay, the other side of the peninsula is never too far away. Your last day on the peninsula can be spent heading back via whichever town you have not been staying in and getting involved with some of the activities you missed out on the day before.
After a long weekend spent on the Coromandel, you will be heading back to Auckland feeling rested and relaxed and already starting to plan your next visit down here.