Whistle-stop road trip through New Zealand’s North Island

by admin

After declaring the South Island as one of my favorite places I have ever visited, the North Island had a lot to live up to. Most people tend to divide their time unequally between the two islands, choosing to spend more time in the South than in the North – this would also be my advice. If time is of the essence, which let’s be honest it always is, here’s a whistle-stop tour through the North Island, getting you to the South Island that bit quicker.

New Zealand North Island

Day 1: Auckland

Fly into Auckland and use it as the starting point for the road trip. Spend one day exploring the bustling city. Fill your day by visiting the winter gardens, climbing to the top of Mount Eden and gorging on ice cream from Giapo.

New Zealand North Island

Day 2: Waiheke Island

Catch the ferry across from Auckland to Waiheke Island to sample some of New Zealand’s finest reds made from grapes grown on the island. My favorite vineyards we visited were Tantalus for a lunch to remember, Cable Bay for the epic view and Mudbrick for the red wines. Make sure to stay until sunset. You needn’t bring your car over to the island as there is a very reliable bus service, which allows you to have a few drinks without worrying.

New Zealand North Island

Day 3: Coromandel

Today we are heading to the beautiful coast and a fair amount of driving is involved, so wake up early to seize the day! The first stop is the iconic Cathedral Cove which is breathtaking with its turquoise waters and rock formations jutting out of the ocean. Park the car in Hahei and start the hour-long coastal walk to Cathedral Cove. On the walk back, make sure to stop at Stingray Bay, a sparkling bay with emerald waters that most people overlook. Continue along the coast to New Chums Beach which is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in New Zealand and once you get there, you’ll realize why. There’s a short, but treacherous hike to a viewpoint so make sure you’re wearing sensible footwear. The last stop of the day is Hot Water Beach which you should arrive at just before sunset to dig your very own hot pool in the sand.
Drive: Auckland to Cathedral Cove | Distance: 149km | Driving time: 2 hours 20 minutes

New Zealand North Island

Day 4: Hamilton Gardens & Hobbiton

Another early start as it’s time to drive from the Coromandel to the fairytale land of Hobbiton. Make sure you’ve got your tickets booked well in advance as it tends to get fully booked. En route to Hobbiton, we’re going to make a slight detour to visit the award-winning Hamilton Gardens as they really are spectacular. Here you’ll find themed gardens which instantly transport you to zen Japan, renaissance Italy and manicured England, and once more entrance is entirely free. After our little detour, it’s back on the road for the short drive to Hobbiton where hopefully all of your Lord of the Rings dreams will come true. After Hobbiton, drive to Wairere Falls which is the highest waterfall in New Zealand’s North Island and has a forested walk to a magnificent viewpoint of the surrounding countryside. Spend the night in Matamata.
Drive: Coromandel to Hobbiton via Hamilton Gardens | Distance: 209km | Driving time: 3 hours

New Zealand North Island

Day 5: Tauranga

Today we’re heading to sunny Tauranga, a cute coastal town that reminded me a lot of Australia’s Byron Bay. Here you’ll find boho chic clothing stores, Moroccan-inspired interior shops and all the healthy food you can dream of. Grab breakfast at one of the many cute cafes, before climbing to the top of Mount Maunganui for breathtaking views over the coastline. Grab a bite to eat in Tauranga before hitting the road again to Omanawa Falls, an emerald green plunge pool where you can bathe beneath the waterfall. Drive to Rotorua to spend the night.
Drive: Matamata to Rotorua via Tauranga | Distance: 114km | Driving time: 1 hour and 40 minutes

New Zealand North Island

Day 6: Rotorua

It’s time to discover what the North Island is most famous for: its geothermal magic. There are endless activities you can do around Rotorua, but my top picks would be the Pohutu Geyser, the Redwoods forest and the Wai-O-Tapu geothermal complex. No matter which activities you pick, you’ll no doubt have fun exploring the geothermal wonders of this city. For sunset head up to Aorangi Peak, a hidden restaurant which no one seems to know about. The restaurant is located even higher than the cable car and the magical view is entirely free, providing you order a drink of course.

New Zealand North Island

Day 7: Taupo

Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand and is unbelievably the size of Singapore! After driving a short hour from Rotorua, head straight to the lake and embark on a boat cruise to the Maori carving. On a summer’s day, you can swim in the lake and get an epic photograph of you beneath the giant rock carving. After spending a leisurely morning on the lake, head to the incredibly powerful Huka Falls. There is no better way to end your day than by relaxing in the natural mineral waters at Wairakei Terraces and to prepare yourself for tomorrow’s long old hike. In the evening, drive to Rangipo which is the closest town to the Tongariro Crossing and will save you driving there tomorrow morning.
Drive: Rotorua to Rangipo via Taupo | Distance: 141km | Driving time: 1 hour and 50 minutes

New Zealand North Island

Day 8: Tongariro Crossing

No trip to the North Island is complete, without embarking on this all-day trek passing through mountainous and volcanic landscape. My advice would be to wake up before sunrise and start this hike as soon as it’s starting to get light outside. It takes about 6 hours and 30 minutes in total, so you should be back down on dry land by the afternoon. If you’ve got the energy, drive up to the Chateau Tongariro for a well-deserved high tea afterwards.

New Zealand North Island

Day 9: Head back up to Auckland

After a restful night, it’s time to journey back to Auckland but not without a very special stop along the way. The Waitomo Caves are an underground cave system lit up with thousands of iridescent glow worms. Located halfway between Tongariro and Auckland, they make for a perfect pitstop along the way. Be mesmerized as you glide through the underground river looking up the star-studded blanket of bioluminescent glow worms. If time allows, other detours on the way back to Auckland include the seaside towns of Raglan and Piha along the West Coast.
Drive: Tongariro to Auckland via Waitomo | Distance: 371km | Driving time: 4 hours and 40 minutes