Well this is pretty exciting – a 14 day holiday and plans for a road trip around the 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
Book a vehicle for this trip
1Auckland to Coromandel Peninsula (168km – 2 hours 30 mins)
You could spend 2 weeks in and around Auckland alone there is so much to do but with only 2 weeks 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. We have only just scratched the surface of things to do in Auckland – you can get some more top tips here.
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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)
Heading off the peninsula you will make your way through Thames heading south towards Paeroa which will be the first stop off the day.
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.
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.
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.
Use your GO Play card here
7Napier 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.
It might be small but New Zealand’s cool capital is jam-packed with things to do and places to see.
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.
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).
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.
If you’re looking for more ideas for things to do in Wellington, check out our Top 5 things to do in Wellington.
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8Wellington to New Plymouth (352kms – 4 hours 37 mins)
Today is a big day of driving as we head up to the west coast and the city of New Plymouth which is set to the spectacular backdrop of Mt Taranaki.
Stonehenge Aotearoa (84km – 1 hour 14 mins)
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.
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)
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!
9Egmont 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.
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.
10New 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.
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!
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!
11Raglan to Paihia (375kms – 4 hours 48 mins)
Raglan is such a beautiful place to wake up in it will be difficult to drag yourself away and head to the big little city and on to the Bay of Islands. 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.
This is going to be one of the biggest driving days so we recommend heading out bright and early and getting some early kms under your belt back up to Auckland which will take you around 2 hours.
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.
12Around 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.
Use your GO Play card here
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’.
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.
13Cape 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.
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.
14Paihia to Auckland via Waipoua Forest (345kms – 4 hours 45 mins)
Hopefully you will have crammed a lot into your 14 day trip around the North Island – 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.
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.
And that concludes this two week itinerary traveling round the North Island. We hope you have had fun and got lots of amazing photos. One thing we always love to hear from our travellers following our itineraries is if we have missed any hidden gems whether it’s a great beach, the best fish and chips ever…whatever it may be we would love to hear from you so make sure you drop us a line on our GO Explore Facebook page.