Exploring the North Island from bottom to top is a great way round to go as many people fly into Auckland and head south so you should have quieter roads for your 10 day adventure. Wellington is a great city to explore and a great place to start your trip as we look to take you on a journey of discovery to unearth some hidden gems as well as taking you to some of New Zealand’s most popular locations. SO if you’re all set – let’s GO!
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1Wellington to Tongariro Crossing (324km – 3 hours 57 mins)
However you got here, we know you’ll be excited to have picked up your beautiful GO Rentals hire car, but make sure you take the time to explore the delights of New Zealand’s capital before you hit the road north to Auckland – take a leaf from the Kiwi book and slow it all down!
Wellington is small but has no shortage of things to see. Head for the CBD, park your rental car and wander around the small streets.
Wellington Complete Guide
Grab a coffee (Wellington claims to have the best coffee in New Zealand so check for yourself), 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).
Archives New Zealand
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).
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After a morning exploring the capital city, it is time to get this road trip started with your first ‘big drive’ which is going to take you around 4 hours to get to Tongariro National Park. Don’t worry though, we have plenty of stops on the way to break up the journey.
Palmerston North (140km – 1 hour 53 mins)
The first stop of the day will be in the small farming town of Palmerston North. As you drive up the west coast, you may want to pit stop at any one of the lovely beaches on the way including Foxton, Otaki and Waikanae which are all easily accessible from SH1. Although it is the biggest town between Wellington and Taupo, 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 elevensies – go on, treat yourself to one of those amazing looking muffins!
Bulls (29.8km – 25 mins from Palmerston North)
There’s not much to say about Bulls but you wanted quirky on this tour and quirky is what you will 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!
Taihape (84.8km – 1 hour from Bulls)
Another quirky stop off on your way north is the ‘gumboot capital of the world’ – Taihape. The gumboot is the NZ equivalent of the Wellington boot and each year the town hosts Gumboot Day. If you’re lucky enough to be passing through in March, check it out and get involved in a bit of gumboot throwing – definitely one to tell the grandkids about!
Tongariro National Park (93.9km – 1 hour 5 mins from Taihape)
Your final destination for the day is at the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, often described as the best one day walk in New Zealand if not the world. There are many places providing accommodation and a lift to the start of the trail which takes you up into the Tongariro National Park. The walk itself is 19.4km and on average takes between 7-9 hours to complete. It reaches altitudes of over 1800m and is covered in snow during the winter months.
Make sure you book your return bus at the place you are staying – they will usually allow for a 10 hour day so people can take their time and enjoy the walk.
2Tongariro Alpine Crossing
So, a day out of your beloved hire car and a chance to stretch your own legs. The Tongariro Crossing is a must do on many people’s lists when they head to NZ so make the most of your day. The weather can change quickly out on the walk so make sure you pack for all seasons from the sun cream to the warm base layers – even if it is a lovely sunny day when you set out, things can soon change out on the track.
A gentle start to the walk will soon be replaced by some gradual climbs before the steep ascent to Red Crater where you get some amazing views looking down to the Emerald Lakes. Make sure you have your camera at the ready as there are so many photo opportunities on the walk.
Lord of the Rings Fans
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan (we won’t hold it against you if you’re not – promise!) then this is the place for you. Home to the sinister Mordor, you will soon start to recognise landscapes from the trilogy and a look over to Mt Ngauruhoe should bring flashbacks of the infamous Mount Doom. If you have the fitness and the equipment, climbing to the summit of Mount Doom is a possible add on to your day but be aware that this is a steep climb and should only be carried out by experience climbers.
By the end of the walk, you will probably feel like Frodo and Sam so treat yourself to a big feed and a cold beer at the end of a great day.
3Tongariro National Park to Taupo (72.7km – 57mins)
Heading out from the Tongariro your day starts with a scenic drive around the shores of NZ’s largest lake to the town that shares the same name – Taupo. There is plenty to see and do in and around Taupo so definitely put aside a couple of hours on the way up to Auckland to explore.
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 will 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?
4Lake Taupo to Rotorua (81.3km – 1 hour 8 mins)
If you managed to squeeze in a skydive the previous day, you may not have had time for much else so spend the morning exploring the lakeside town and any of the recommended activities you may have missed. Then it’s time to hit the road north to Rotorua.
Once you drag yourself away from Taupo and head towards Rotorua, it may be time to take a step back and relax a little. We suggest you take a couple hours to visit the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua, 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 Complete Guide
Rotorua and around
You probably noticed it as soon as you drove into Rotorua – that sulphuric smell, 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 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 will not find anywhere, pay a visit to Te Puia (about five minutes from the centre of town).
You will 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.
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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!
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!
5Rotorua to Paeroa (127km – 2 hours 3 mins)
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)
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, this is the place for you. If you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan (we don’t judge), you’ll still enjoy the stop in Matamata.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 that, it’s time to continue north. Our next stop: Paeroa.
Giant L&P Bottle
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-respected tourist so make sure you strike a pose in front of it too.
With plenty of accommodation options from B&Bs to lodges, Paeroa is a great place to stop off for the night on your route north.
6Paeroa to the Coromandel Peninsula (88km – 1 hour 35 mins)
Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway (7.7km – 7 mins from Paeroa)
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 (13.2km – 12 mins from Karangahake)
As you head towards the peninsula, 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, as there won’t be many other opportunities to do so during the trip.
From here you head to your final destination – we recommend a stopover in Whitianga which is just short of 2 hours from Waihi.
Coromandel Complete Guide
It’s not exactly on the way up to Auckland but it’s well worth the detour and you’ll get some of the most stunning coastline photos on your side trip up the Coromandel Peninsula.
Make sure your camera is well charged and stop at the Coromandel Township (32.6km – 45 mins from Whitianga) for a glimpse into life in small town New Zealand. The town has a laid back feel to it so don’t rush around – enjoy the atmosphere, as well as the numerous artisan centres spread around the place. You can take your pick at different artisan 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.
New Chums Beach – Wainuiototo Bay
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 will find is an example of the really pristine and unspoiled natural wonders of New Zealand.
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.
8Coromandel Peninsula to Auckland (169km – 2 hours 30 mins)
Take the time to enjoy your morning on the Coromandel Peninsula before you head off to New Zealand’s biggest city. Make the most of the peace and quiet and the tranquil walks as things are going to get busy when you arrive in Auckland.
Pokeno Ice Cream
We know you’ll be excited and itching to get to Auckland for some retail therapy and top notch food, however half an hour out of Auckland is a must for all travellers heading north – it’s 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.
Auckland Complete Guide
Known as the City of Sails or the Big Little City, Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city with 1.3 million people calling it home. The renowned Mercer Quality of Living Survey ranked it the 3rd best city in the world to live and even the prestigious New York Times has named it one of the “hippest” cities in the world. Home to the largest Polynesian population in the world, 1.3 million people can’t be wrong, right?
The city is the perfect mix of the natural beauty the country is famous for and a hip modern cosmopolitan urban area. Whether you’re looking to wander through luscious bush in the Waitakere Ranges or explore the wild West Coast beaches such as Piha or Muriwai, there is something for everyone in the Big Little City.
It is also a geology-lover’s paradise, with over 50 extinct or dormant volcanoes to explore. Climb to the top of the tallest of them all, Mount Eden, for the best view of the city, or take the short ferry ride across the harbour to Rangitoto, the youngest of them all. Whichever you choose to visit, it is sure to be an unforgettable experience. If you’re looking for some real adventure, our GO Play partner Auckland Seaplanes offer 5% discount on scenic flights over Rangitoto. Go on, splash out, you’re on holiday!
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9Auckland to Paihia (227kms – 2 hours 54 mins)
After a day soaking up the city life in Auckland, it’s time to hit the road as our trip takes us north of Auckland up to the Bay of Islands. This is one of the great Kiwi road trips and a favourite amongst those who live in New Zealand’s busiest city. This is your last trip out in your GO Rentals hire car but as much as you love the driving, make sure you take some regular pit stops along the way as there is plenty to see and do on the drive north.
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.
Kawakawa (170kms – 2 hours 9 mins)
The next stage of your journey north does not provide much in terms of interesting stops as you pass through commercial hubs like Warkworth and Whangarei. Kawakawa however 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.
Bay of Islands Complete Guide
10Around the Bay of Islands to Auckland (227kms – 2 hours 54 mins)
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.
Jet Boat Ride – if you have never experience 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
Russell – 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.
After spending a good part of the day in the Bay of Islands, it’s time to head back to Auckland to drop off the car and end this fantastic North Island adventure.
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