Well this is pretty exciting – a 10 day holiday and plans for a road trip around the upper and mid North Island. We have done a lot of travelling on those roads and hope we have pulled together a really great itinerary for you – it includes some of the big stuff like you would expect but it also covers some of the less travelled roads in New Zealand, attempting to uncover some of those little gems that are not over run with tourists and will take you to the heart of New Zealand life. Sound good? Let’s get GOing then!
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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1Auckland to Coromandel Peninsula (168km – 2 hours 30 mins)
You could spend 10 days in and around Auckland alone there is so much to do but with only 10 days to squeeze in so many places, 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.
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.
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OK – so it’s time to hit the road and make your way down to the Coromandel which is going to take you between 2.5-3 hours. 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!
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.
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.
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.
2Around 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.
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.
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’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.
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!
3Coromandel Peninsula to Tauranga (166kms– 2 hour 33 mins)
Giant L&P Bottle (97.2km – 1 hour 36 mins from Whitianga)
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!
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 Paeroa and Waihi, get your hiking boots on and off you go!
Waihi (108km – 1 hour 52 mins from Coromandel Township)
After a great wander in the Karangahake Gorge, it’s time to head back over to the coast. Make sure you stop by the impressive Martha’s Mine in Waihi where 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. There’s a cracking beach at Waihi too so chill out and maybe take a picnic lunch down there with you.
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Tauranga (61.8kms – 53mins)
Tauranga is the largest city in the Bay of Plenty and is a paradise for water-lovers whether you’re into fishing, dolphin watching or just taking a dip in the sea. Tauranga has a great range of accommodation options and the Strand waterfront area is always buzzing with activity with plenty of places to grab a drink and a bite to eat. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting around Easter time, Tauranga is also home to New Zealand’s National Jazz Festival which attracts some of the best jazz musicians from around the world. Just 15 minutes away is one of New Zealand’s most popular beach town, Mount Maunganui where you can sit back and relax on golden sands.
4Tauranga to Gisborne (275kms – 3 hours 44 mins)
There are more direct routes to Napier but these itineraries are about the roads less travelled and the hidden gems to discover along the way so we’re going to send you the long way round and hope it is worth the extra kilometres – you get the bonus of a night in Gisborne as well which is always a great place to stop off.
Te Puke (24.4kms – 25 mins)
So, the first stop of this epic road trip comes at Te Puke, the kiwi growing capital of New Zealand and to be honest, probably the world! What is more kiwi than going to the place where loads of kiwis are grown? Exactly. The local produces grow millions of kiwi fruits each year which are exported to all corners of the world and if that’s not enough, there’s even a kiwi theme park! Boom.
From here, your drive down SH2 will hug the coastline with lots of great little beachside towns and villages along the way so there are plenty of stop offs should you need the break. The next big stop off is scheduled for Whakatane.
Whakatane (66.8kms – 54 mins)
This is one of the sunniest and warmest place in New Zealand and is a great place to stop off on your way down to Napier. The biggest attraction here is White Island, a spectacular active volcano that is located just off shore and can be visited by boat or if you are feeling flush, by helicopter. As an active volcano, this is a great photo opportunity to see the roaring, hissing and steaming crater in action so get your cameras at the ready.
Just down the road from Whakatane is the beautiful white sandy beach at Ohope where surfing is a favourite pastime; a great place to chill out for a while before you hit the road again.
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At Opotiki, it’s time to take a turn south. Although we love the off-the-beaten-track nature of the East Cape drive, it’s already a long day behind the wheel and the drive around the rugged East Cape will add too many kms to your day. Maybe another time…
Gisborne (185kms – 2 hours 30 mins)
It’s time to get some miles under your belt and crack on down to the east coast. The next stage of the drive will cut off the East Cape and deliver you to your final resting spot for the night in Gisborne.
One of the best things about staying the night in Gisborne is that you get to be amongst the first few people in the world to welcome in the start of the new day – Gisborne is the first city to see the sun rise each day. It’s also the first city to welcome in the New Year – more mindless trivia for your road trip companions! Gisborne is a good stop off for some well-deserved dinner and is sometimes referred to as the chardonnay capital of New Zealand although there are plenty of other places who might argue that one. There is some really nice history to Gisborne as this was the first place where Captain Cook landed in New Zealand in 1769 at the nearby Kaiti Beach. There is also a rich Maori history in the city so make sure you take a couple of hours off the road and explore some of the areas rich history.
5Gisborne to Napier (216kms – 2 hours 53 mins)
Hopefully you made it up for sunrise today and made sure everyone was aware of the lengths you had gone to in order to become one of the first to welcome in the new day. Gisborne is a great place to start your day and we recommend heading out for a scrumptious breakfast before exploring the city. The city had heaps of character and you will soon find yourself lost around the bustling streets. A great place to head out and people watch is at Wainui beach – a popular destination for surfers where quality waves can be found year round. After a morning spent in Gisborne, it’s time to get back in the car for the drive down to Napier.
Wairoa (98.1kms – 1 hour 17 mins)
Wairoa is a great place to break up this leg of the journey from Gisborne to Napier. It’s a popular stop off point for those going off to explore the Te Urewera National Park but for you, it will be a welcome stretch of the legs and a chance to check out the old wooden lighthouse that continues to keep ships safe at sea.
You should have plenty of time to spare so a trip to the Nikau Pools is a must. The Nikau Pools are some of the finest mineral pools in NZ and for a few dollars you can relax away those aches and pains and forget that you have you drove for close to 4 hours yesterday to get down here!
From Wairoa, it’s just over 100 kms to Napier where you will be just in time for dinner and a first opportunity to sample some of the fantastic local vinos.
6Napier and around
Napier was hit by a devastating earthquake in 1931, registering a massive 7.9 on the Richter Scale. What resulted was some fantastic building work, much of which was completed within 2 years and much of it in an art deco style. Because of this, 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.
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.
Art Deco guided Walks – if you’re not up on your art deco but you want to know more about this fantastic architectural period, a guided walk is the perfect way to learn about the history of the buildings in and around Napier whilst taking a lovely stroll around the town.
7Napier to Taupo (142kms – 1 hour 47 mins)
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.
After a full on day in Napier, it’s time to hit the road again. For the early birds, we can highly recommend a morning jaunt up Te Mata to catch the sunrise – we managed it once and it was truly spectacular!
The drive up SH5 to Taupo passes through some rugged landscapes although not much else in terms of stops offs so pack up some treats for the road trip before you leave Napier. Taupo is another one of New Zealand’s iconic stop over destinations and extremely popular with tourists. A lot of people come for the adventure activities like skydiving, but there is plenty more to this lakeside town.
Although this is a guide to off the beaten track activities, it wouldn’t be right for us not to mention the amazing sky diving over Lake Taupo. As you’ll be aware, New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world and sky diving opportunities are abundant all over the country but Lake Taupo is a GO Rentals favourite and luckily for you, Taupo Tandem Skydiving is a GO Play partner giving you a 5% discount. The views as you hurtle out of the plane towards the lake are spectacular and if you can, we recommend you get the photo pack – it’s well worth the extra dollars to remember this day.
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For you budding Rorys out there, Lake Taupo throws up a challenge – can you land your ball on a green floating in the middle of the lake? If the answer is yes, and more importantly, if you can get a hole in one, your trip to Lake Taupo just got a whole bunch better as there are some big prizes up for grabs. Even if you don’t play golf, it’s pretty satisfying just whacking balls into the lake!
This is a great little detour as you head out of Taupo and well worth it as it’s not every day you get to see a river that is usually 100m wide get squeezed through a gap which is only 20m wide over a 20m drop! Apparently 220,000 litres of water gushes over the falls every second (that is a LOT of water) – we haven’t as yet managed to see any salmon leaping up the falls and we’re not sure it’s possible – what do you reckon?
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.
8Taupo to Rotorua (81.3km – 1 hour 8 mins)
Another short driving day awaits today as you start to make your way back north. It will take you just over an hour to get to Rotorua so you will have a full day to explore there and theirs is lots to do so get your skates on!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
9Rotorua to Raglan (158kms – 2 hours 1 min)
Today’s drive sees us heading west across the country to the popular surfing town of Raglan. Although it’s a pretty straight drive skirting just below Hamilton, we have a couple of minor detours along the way but we think they’re well worth it!
Chainsaw Collection at the New Zealand Timber Museum (54.2km – 47 mins from Rotorua)
Not exactly the most obvious choice for a recommended touristic attraction but we’re talking about unique and quaint experiences that you’ll 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.
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 Matamata.
Matamata (29.8km – 28 mins from Putaruru)
Another great place for you Lord of the Rings fans, Matamata (so good they named it twice!) is a great stop off for all travellers heading north.
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.
After all this Lord of the Rings excitement, it’s time to hit the road again, heading back via SH29 to re-join SH1 and our journey west.
Cambridge (39.1kms – 30 mins)
As you near Hamilton, a great little stop off is the quaint little town of Cambridge. As the name might suggest, it does have an air of England about it and is a great place to take a stroll in one of the pretty parks. If you haven’t eaten yet, you can also get a mean pie in this town.
From Cambridge it’s only another 68kms to Raglan which should leave you plenty of time to explore.
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 10 day 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!
10Raglan 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.