It’s time to go on a road trip. There are so many awesome places to visit on a one-week road trip from Auckland but we decided to take you on some of the roads less travelled including a forgotten highway. This road trip will take you all the way from the east to the west coast of the North Island and will have a bit of everything from beautiful beaches, to geothermal wonders to some of New Zealand’s best surfing. Oh, and one of the most iconic volcanoes in the country.
Sound good? Let’s get GOing.
- Route map with key locations
- Recommended vehicle for this trip
- Trip itinerary
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1Auckland to Mt Maunganui (217.7km – 2 hours 45 mins)
Hopefully your trip affords you a few days in Auckland before you set off as the City of Sails is an awesome place to explore. If you are looking for ideas on things to do in Auckland, make sure you check out our Complete Guide to Auckland for great tips on things to do, places to stay and some of the best bars and restaurants in the city.
This week-long road trip is going to take you down the east coast of the north island before heading cross country over to the west. After maxing out your Auckland experience, it’s time to hit the road as we have a few KMs to cover today but we have some great stop-offs planned along the way.
Pokeno Ice Cream (52.1km – 36mins from Auckland)
The first stop of the day comes just 35 minutes into the roadie. The Pokeno ice cream 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!
From Pokeno, you have a couple of options. Options are always good! If you fancy taking the coastal route all the way to Mt Maunganui, stay on SH2 towards Waihi.
Paeroa (73km – 54 mins from Pokeno)
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!
Paeroa is a quaint little village with some nice bakeries so if you were off early, it’s a great place to grab some brekkie.
After Paeroa, your drive will take you along the coastline through Waihi and Katikati before bringing you to your final destination, Mt Maunganui.
If you choose to take the inland route, take SH27 at Mangatarata. This inland route will take you through beautiful rolling countryside and the main reason to head this way is the opportunity to visit Hobbiton.
Matamata (111.6km – 1 hour 21 mins from Pokeno)
If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings then this is a must. Matamata (so good they named it twice!) is a great stop off for all travellers heading south and is a great opportunity to get a lot of likes on your Instagram account!
From Matamata, it’s just a short 57 km drive to Mt Maunganui which will take you around 45 mins.
After a day of driving (and eating ice creams), it’s time to explore Mt Maunganui. The Mount as it is more commonly referred to is home to one of New Zealand’s most popular beaches. It’s not every day a beach has a volcano situated at one end of it but that’s exactly what Mt Maunganui is.
The Mount is not always the first place on the list of places to explore when overseas visitors are planning their trip. It’s a definite favourite with the locals though and all those who come here leave with awesome memories.The beach is always a popular place to spend the day but there are plenty of other activities to get stuck into on your day out of the car. We would definitely recommend taking one of the walks up The Mount. There are several tracks that will take you to the summit of the 232m high volcano and the views are stunning.
For more ideas on things to do in Mt Maunganui, make sure you check out our Complete Guide.
3Mt Maunganui to Rotorua (76.4km – 1 hour 4 mins)
Another short driving day awaits. After an early morning stroll on the seafront at The Mount, we recommend an early start to make the most of your day in Rotorua.
Rotorua is a geothermal wonderland which is just waiting to be discovered. Here are some of the highlights:
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.
Wai-O-Tapu 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.
Use your GO Play card here
For stunning examples of Maori culture that you’ll not find anywhere, 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 north.
For more ideas on things to do in Rotorua, make sure you check out our Complete Guide.
4Rotorua to New Plymouth via Taupo – 394.1km – 5 hours 15 mins)
Alright, after a couple of easy days in the car, it’s time to put that GO Rentals beauty to the test. This is a big day of driving which will take you all the way from Rotorua to New Plymouth via Taupo and the Forgotten Highway.
We recommend an early start to your day as you have got over 5 hours of driving ahead of you without adding in some of the amazing stop-offs along the way.
Taupo (81.3km – 1 hour 8 mins)
You first stop of the day comes just over an hour into your journey. Taupo is an awesome place to visit and if you do have more than 7 days for this roadie, we recommend giving yourself a bit more time here. As it is, you only have an hour or two so use your time wisely as there is heaps to do here. These are some of the highlights:
Huka Falls and Prawn Park
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.
Mt Doom Vistas
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.
Taupo to Taumarunui (123.4km – 1 hour 28 mins)
After leaving Taupo, you are now heading off on a journey of discovery to unearth a forgotten highway. Sounds pretty exciting right? Well, it is actually!
Located between the Whanganui National Park and the Tongariro World Heritage area, Taumarunui is a great place for your second stop of the day. Located at the junction of the Whanganui and Ongarue rivers, the fishing as you can imagine is pretty good around these parts but there are a ton of activities from cycling to golf to great walking trails so take the time to explore the town which is also home to some great little cafes and places to grab a bite to eat for lunch.
Whangamomona (87kms – 2 hours 38 mins)
Although its only 87kms to Whangamomona, this section of the Forgotten Highway will take you just over two and a half hours and realistically it will probably take you longer as there are so many great photo opportunities along the route. There are a couple of stop off points on the way including a quirky museum (The Nukunuku Museum) and one of the highest waterfalls (Mt Damper Falls) in the North Island which also includes a nice 20-minute stroll to get there.
Shortly after your visit to the falls, you come across one of the highlights of the Forgotten Highway – the 180m long, single-lane Moki Tunnel which was built in 1936 and is known locally as the Hobbit’s Hole. Next stop will be Whangamomona, a small village full of character, home to the only hotel on the Forgotten Highway and the guarantee of a friendly welcome. The village declared itself a republic in 1989 and you can pick up a passport from the Whangamomona Hotel. Now that is pretty quirky!
Stratford (61.9kms – 1 hour 7 mins)
The final section of the Forgotten Highway takes you through some spectacular scenery, initially heading over the Whangamomona Saddle which provides some fantastic views of the surrounding forest before you will finally end up in Stratford.
Stratford 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!
It’s a further 40 kms to your final resting place of New Plymouth and this will have been a long day of driving so it’s time to get a good feed in you – tomorrow is going to be a day out of the car (well, mostly out of the car!)
5New Plymouth and Mt Egmont
OK, so it’s time to stretch the legs and leave the car at home today! You have a couple of great options in New Plymouth:
1. Exploring 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!
2. Egmont National Park (29.1km – 32 mins)
So we lied when we said there was no driving today, but if you fancy exploring the Egmont National Park and Mt Taranaki, then you will have to make a short 30-minute drive to start your day.
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.
New Plymouth and the Taranaki region is an area that is starting to make big waves. Voted by Lonely Planet as one of their ‘must-visit’ destinations for 2017, you can find out more about this magnificent region in our Complete Guide.
6New 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 one down for you and this one is a 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 are 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 a 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.
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!
Use your GO Play card here
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 the 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 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!
7Raglan 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 espresso 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.