Well this is exciting news – you’ve got three days off and you’re planning a trip from Auckland to Rotorua. Rotorua is a bubbling geothermal wonderland and there is lots to see and do once you get down there so there’s really no time to waste – let’s get GO-ing!
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1Auckland to Rotorua (228kms – 2 hours 43 mins)
There are a couple of ways to get down to Rotorua so the good news for you is that you don’t have to drive the same way twice. It also means we’ve got twice the number of things to see and do on your way down and back. We have decided to head off the most direct route on the way there so you get as much time as possible in Rotorua to explore. After leaving the suburban sprawl of Auckland behind you, you will soon hit the open road as you leave SH1 and head down SH27 towards your first stop of the day and one that we’re pretty excited about.
Matamata (161kms – 1 hour 52mins from Auckland)
One of our main reasons for coming this way first is to stop off in one of our favourite locations in the North Island. Many people have never heard of Matamata (even though it’s so good they named it twice!) but speak the words ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘The Hobbit’ and you soon see that spark of intrigue that only comes from the opportunity to visit one of the most famous movie sets in the world.
That’s right people, the first major stop off on this adventure takes us to Hobbiton and the home of The Shire made famous in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. Take a guided tour of The Shire and you’ll soon see from the rolling hills why Director Peter Jackson chose this location. Wander through the 44 unique hobbit holes including Bag End before stopping off for a pint in the Green Dragon Inn. This is a must for all Lord of the Rings fans and even if you’re not, it’s well worth a visit as it’s a truly captivating place.
If you’ve got the time, a trip to the Wairere Falls is also worth a shout. At 153m, these are the highest waterfalls in the North Island and there is a great walking track that will take you up to a lookout where you can enjoy some pretty awesome views over the Waikato as well as a bird’s eye view of the falls.
From here it’s only another 68 kms to Rotorua which should take you just under an hour leaving you plenty of time to explore this afternoon.
After the drive down and checking into your accommodation, it’s a good idea to give your legs a stretch so head out and take in the sights, sounds and smells of Rotorua. There’s no getting away from it – this place has a certain aroma to it that some find a little overpowering – we find that you soon get used to it but none the less, be prepared for the sulphuric smell to hit your nostrils as soon as you step out of your rental car.
Although we like to recommend some of the more off-the-beaten-track activities in our itineraries, there are some things that you just can’t miss and the Rotorua Museum is one of them. Located in the iconic Bath House building, this is a great opportunity to take a step back in time and learn about the region’s rich Maori culture and volcanic landscape which have shaped the town you find before you today.
2Rotorua and around
After a gentle introduction to Rotorua on your arrival yesterday, it’s time to get stuck in and experience this amazing place up close. With so many things to see in the town, putting a plan together of your ‘must do’ activities is a great place to start so we have done some of the work for you and put together our top 5 – see what you reckon and if you have any other suggestions, make sure you drop us a comment on our GO Explore Facebook page:
One of the best places to see the geothermal wonderland 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.
Use your GO Play card here
2. 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.
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.
4. Mountain biking – Skyline Gravity Park
Rotorua is a bit of a mountain biking mecca in New Zealand with over 90kms of world-class mountain biking trails. Most weekends you’ll find races taking place in and around Rotorua and the trails are popular with amateurs and professionals alike.
Perhaps one of the best experiences can be found at the Skyline Gravity Park located on top of Mt Ngongotaha which overlooks the city of Rotorua. Take the gondola to the top of the peak and experience over 8.5 kms of downhill track. Half and full day gondola passes are available and for us, this is cycling at its best – all the downs and no uphills!
5. Polynesian Spa
If you want the ultimate in relaxation 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.
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! If you are planning on spending more time in and around Rotorua, make sure you check out our Complete Guide which gives you tips on places to stay, places to eat out and places to party!
3Rotorua to Auckland (266kms – 3 hours 35 mins)
Wow – that was an action packed day! Depending on what time you have to get the car back to Auckland, there may still be time this morning to squeeze in anything you missed out on yesterday or maybe even give something another whirl (you know you want one more Zorb!). Our journey back to Auckland takes us via a slightly longer route but one that we think is worth the extra kms as you will get to see some new sights and sounds.
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Tauranga (64kms – 1 hour 1 min)
Tauranga is the largest city in the Bay of Plenty and one that gets a lot of sunshine. It’s a great stop off point on this trip back to Auckland for a mid-morning coffee in one of the plethora of cafes that are found on the Strand waterfront area.
If the sun is shining (it usually is down here) it’s definitely worth the 15 minute drive to Mount Maunganui, a white sand surf beach that sits at the foot of the volcano Mauao.
Waihi (61.6kms – 57 mins)
As you head north, 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 or if you didn’t stop off in Tauranga, there is also a beautiful beach at Waihi.
Paeroa (21.1kms – 19 mins)
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!
Pokeno Ice Cream (72kms – 52 mins)
Although this is a slight detour when you join SH1 heading north, it’s well worth taking the highway one junction south for a real afternoon treat. 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.
From here it’s just over 52 kms to Auckland which depending on traffic should take you anywhere from 35 mins to an hour to allow plenty of time.
Things to do in Auckland
If you are planning on staying around Auckland for a few days, check out our awesome Complete Guide and find out all the cool things to do in Auckland including where to stay, where to eat and where to party.
So that brings this three day adventure to Rotorua to an end – we hope you have had a blast and that the sulphuric smell didn’t get you down! We love Rotorua and we would love to see any of your photos from your time down there so be sure to send them into our Snap Happy competition or post them to our GO Explore Facebook page.